How waste recycling can be used to reduce poverty in West Africa

Compared to other parts of the world, recycling is a relatively new concept in Africa. In West Africa, for example in a report published by the all-recycling-facts-com it was stated that in Europe as far back as the Second World War ‘financial constraints and massive material shortage due to war efforts made it necessary for our ancestors to reuse goods and recycle materials’.

In present day West Africa, as more awareness is being created about recycling, some countries are trying to find ways in which their citizenry can benefit from engaging in recycling.

Ghana could make $400,000 from recycling waste

In 2013, a research carried out by the Ghana Center for Scientific and Industrial Research found that $400,000 can be generated in Ghana every month from recycling waste. This report was submitted to a governmental agency but as it stands that amount is not being generated in Ghana, an indication that countries in West Africa, are not keying properly into the initiative but Ghana seems to be doing better than most other countries in West Africa as efforts to formalize recycling only began in Nigeria in December 2016 – a recycling initiative was launched by the Lagos State Government, according to a report by The Vanguard newspaper.

To understand the Nigerian situation, there is need at this point to highlight a face of recycling that has to do with individuals who are trying to earn a living by engaging in the enterprise in a country where awareness is really low. It is important to highlight this aspect as the large population in Nigeria makes it easy for others who reside in neighboring countries to be positively or negatively influenced.

The West African Reality: The Nigerian Story

Dressed in casual pants and T-shirt, Abdullahi Abu trudges the streets of the Governmental Residential Area in the southern part of Nigeria. Nothing in his demeanor indicates that he is miles and miles away from home. He doesn’t seem perturbed as living far from Sokoto, his state of origin has become his reality.

“I was in Abuja before I came here,” he revealed in broken English while giving sketchy details about his past. On a typical day, the youngman in his twenties can be spotted shouting in a loud voice as well as banging on objects while moving around from one location to the other but he is neither an idler nor a miscreant, he is on a mission. “We go from street to street in search of specific items no longer used by residents,” he says with pride. “With the money given to us by those who need it we purchase the items,” he adds.

The items he talks about are materials like car batteries, fridges, Air conditioners etc. that are no longer in use.

With the teeming population under the age of thirty residing in a state like Edo State, which is in the southern part of Nigeria, it has become common to see a number of people like Abdullahi who hail from a different part of the country coming all the way to engage in such a trade.

Daniel Osadiey, an indigene who is a fashion apprentice gives an insight, “people who come from these parts consider it a demeaning way to earn a living”. A statement that seems to downplay the high unemployment rate in Nigeria but Daniel doesn’t stop there he explains further, “For those who are unemployed and who may want to engage in the business, they may hesitate because it is so close to home”.

An Encounter with Festus a few days later who is from a neighboring state seemed to contradict Daniel’s views, as on a typical day he can be seen going around not even to homes, but to the streets in the southern city to pick discarded plastic bottles, cans and so on, in the full view of everyone to sell so he could survive but on closer inspection, it turns out Festus is developmentally challenged hence his indifference to how he is viewed by others, but does it really mean that recycling is such an unsavoury endeavor in Nigeria? Is it as demeaning as some segments of the population are inclined to think?

Osaze Obaizamioman a trained economist has an interesting perspective on the subject; “170 million Nigerians contribute to waste creation by virtue of being alive. If this waste is properly harnessed then poverty will reduce,” he says, but it appears that those in the critical sector who supervise refuse collection in Nigeria appear to be slow in catching on with recycling, unlike their contemporaries in countries of the West.

As far back as 2005, the highlighted countries have been involved actively in recycling. For example, in a BBC online report of June 25, 2005 titled ‘Recycling around the world’ said that supermarkets in Switzerland have bottle banks with separate slots for different colours of bottles where residents are encouraged to drop used items.

The report inferred that the Swiss do not recycle for the love of the enterprise but that for each refuse bag collected from their homes, they have to pay some money, so reducing the number of bags through taking selected items to free public pick up points reduces the charge.

Some 9000 tonnes of waste generated in Lagos

A United States Environmental Protection Agency report states that in the year 2013, 34.3 per cent of waste was recycled in America.

From Investigations carried out in Nigeria, the Lagos State government is the only state government that has invested significant resources in recycling. A timely move as 9,000 tonnes of waste is being generated daily within the metropolis which is home to quite a number of Ghanaians.

In a chat with Peter Inegbedion a Director of Environment in one of the local government areas in another state, he gives an insight into the level of awareness by government; “We are yet to key in as a local government or as a state,” he said in a chat at his office.

Minutes later at a meeting with his subordinates, he decides to take the bull by the horns to enlighten officials of the waste management agency who minutes before in a prayer session, prayed fervently for their unpaid salaries to be paid on the benefits of recycling.

The governments in most states of the federation in Nigeria seem to be dragging their feet on finding alternative ways of paying salaries, but some members of the private sector see recycling as a viable way to reduce poverty.

“We use the resources made from engaging in recycling to help the less privileged,” says Effiom Duke, the acting Programme Coordinator of the Green Concern for Development Partners, an NGO based in Cross River State.

He describes the process, which includes gathering sachet water packs, compressing it into bails and sending it in a truckload to Lagos to be processed by a factory that produces plastic items. He talked about the low involvement of government in supporting the initiative in practical terms, which he says will go a long way in reducing poverty.

Similarly, in Benin-City, even though the operators of a recycling initiative known as Recycle Exchange have no support from the government they are trying to make strides as well. In the outfit, a coordinator named Peter, is in charge of collecting items like plastic bottles, and so on, that have already been assembled from various sources including homes. Some of these items are washed thoroughly and then used to repackage non-edible products, but he talks about the challenges he faces.

Low support for recycling in Nigeria

He explains that because of the low support for recycling in the country, the company for now engages in the least form of recycling which is washing and repackaging. He also explained that some of their collectors who gather the materials and get paid do not see the need to supply information in a passbook which is designed to record numbers of items collected.

“It is difficult to do this business sometimes as people due to indiscipline and the culture in the wider society of not putting structures in place do not see the need in collecting data which is very integral for development in all the sectors.”

This assertion by Peter is collaborated by his namesake, the Director in the local government environmental agency. He confesses that since they have no recycling unit the agency has no data on recycling.

From his input on the subject, Innocent Edemharia, a Programme’s manager at the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice highlights reasons why most governmental agencies like the Oredo local government environmental unit, in charge of waste disposal will stand to gain from coordinating recycling processes right from the homes where they are generated.

“There is poor waste management, people dispose waste indiscriminately with negative environmental impacts,” he says.

Even on the street near where the NGO is located his words ring true as the environment from time to time is littered with refuse that have not been collected.

Countries in West Africa need to come alive and key into the benefits that would be derived from engaging in recycling as Innocent put it succinctly with the following words, “recycling is a fantastic concept that is conceived out of new thinking.”

By Efe A. Omordia

Email: [email protected]

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