Nigerians produce over 34 million tonnes of solid waste annually. Some of this gets picked up and sent to recycling facilities, where they are reprocessed into useful material or tools. But most of it falls out of the waste management system. That portion is represented by the cans, discarded newspapers, and rags that litter Nigeria’s streets and clog its public drainages.
This state of affairs is the result of a gap that exists between waste generation and recycling. Garbage collection and disposition isn’t always straightforward business. It’s a fragmented space with numerous informal operators, who may not always be keen on handling the junk they’ve received in the tidiest way.
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RecyclePoints, a social enterprise startup, is filling this gap. They are not your regular local waste collector: their personnel are kitted in the brand’s green colour, and usually have face masks and protective gear on. And when they take waste away, they don’t just dump it in a junkyard. They deliver it to manufacturers who process them into new products.
But RecyclePoints doesn’t merely collect garbage. They let people earn from giving them their waste. This incentivized waste collection model has drawn thousands of city dwellers to their platform. This brand appears to be building an attractive alternative to the predominant waste management arrangements in the country’s urban areas.
The Birth of the RecyclePoints Idea
Mazi and Chioma Ukonu founded RecyclePoints in 2012. The couple says they happened upon the idea for the enterprise while they were holidaying in another country. They noticed that the trash collectors there required that solid waste be separated into different categories, depending on what kinds of material they were made of. They also learnt about the emphasis placed on recycling by the authorities in that country.
This inspired them to introduce an orderly solution to the waste problem that plagued Lagos, the city in which they lived back in Nigeria. And more than six years later, their main focus still is on tackling the city’s persisting trash collection and recycling issues.
Today, RecyclePoints partners with the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) on waste recycling and sanitation advocacy in the state. It’s an uphill task dealing with the garbage of over 20 million people; but the company’s founders insist that they’re up for the challenge.
How RecyclePoints Works
First, RecyclePoints registers homes and businesses that want to use its services. This is done either online or by one of their workers on the field. Once this is done, the registered home or business can begin to deliver their waste to RecyclePoints’ agents, and get rewards.
Materials accepted by RecyclePoints include pure water sachets, glass bottles, PET plastic bottles, used beverage cans, brown corrugated carton, and old newspapers. Establishments registered on the platform can either request a RecyclePoints collector to pick up waste from them, or take the waste to any of its designated collection and sorting hubs (CoSoHub).
When they do this, they get points from the company (tied to the type and quantity of waste delivered); accumulated points can be redeemed for household items or cash.
RecyclePoints sells the trash it collects to manufacturing and recycling plants.
Chasing Down a Moving Train
The RecyclePoints team has plans to expend across Nigeria in the coming years. However, they’re racing against an ever growing issue. Current models predict that the volumes of waste generated by Nigeria’s could increase by almost 60% to about 54.8 million tonnes by 2030.
It’s still not clear how all that extra material will be dealt with. But with more social enterprises like RecyclePoints rising to the challenge, there could be much less junk littering the country’s streets by that time.
Featured image source: Chivas Regal
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Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.