How entrepreneurs in Nigeria are finding value in waste

Mounds of rubbish strewn along roads and huge dumps are a thorn in Nigeria’s side.

In Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, collecting, sorting and recycling trash is a desperate rarity. But there is also good news. Some entrepreneurs work hard to manage the garbage mountain despite many challenges.

Romco Metals began recycling aluminum at its factory outside of Lagos in 2015, spurred by global demand for the light, strong and flexible metal.

Buoyed by good results, the company built a second plant outside Ghana’s capital, Accra, and now plans to open at least three new plants across Africa and triple production by 2025.

Aluminum is the second most used metal in the world after steel and is widely used in construction, medicine and automotive manufacturing.

“Electric vehicles require more durable, lighter materials like aluminum, and that’s where our materials end up,” said the company’s teenage founder, 32-year-old Raymond Onovwigun.

job creation

Romco, a UK registered company, melts and recycles around 1,500 tonnes of discarded aluminum per month at a capacity of 3,000 tonnes.

It says it has created 450 direct jobs – a total of 5,000 in this labour-intensive sector – and plans to double that number within a year.

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“Before… there was no work,” said community leader Bankole Gbenga, known as Chief Abore, during a recent visit to the Lagos facility.

Chief Abore says more than a hundred young people from his community alone now work for Romco in some capacity.

“Some are carpenters, some are welders … some of the youngsters are security guards,” said the 40-year-old.

Among those who have benefited the most from Romco’s business are materials suppliers like Mohammed Ashiru Madugu, who delivers several truckloads of scrap metal every week.

Madugu has a warehouse in northwest Katsina, where suppliers from across the state and even neighboring states bring him discarded metal.

He loads the goods onto trucks and sends them to Lagos, more than a thousand kilometers away.

He can get paid up to 26 million naira (about RM273,210) for a truck, although the price fluctuates.

The scrap supplier said these trips had to be accompanied on the road because of the risk of ambushes by criminal gangs.

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Romco later said that none of its suppliers needed escorts and none had been involved in any criminal attacks.

“We have had zero cases of anything like this,” it said in a statement.

Big problem

In Nigeria, a country of around 210 million consumers, only a tiny fraction of waste is recycled.

Plastic, metal and glass routinely collected and processed in advanced economies are largely thrown away.

Nigeria flushes 200,000 tons of plastic into the Atlantic every year, the UN Industrial Development Organization reported last year.

In Lagos alone, a city of more than 20 million people, less than 10% of the total recyclables are currently collected, said Ibrahim Adejuwon Odumboni, executive director of Lagos State Management Agency.

For comparison, in the UK more than 41% of waste collected by local authorities was recycled last year, according to UK statistics.

Recycling initiatives are to be commended for Odumboni, but the companies that make aluminum beverage cans and other products should do more.

“We need manufacturers to invest in the collection system. In many parts of the world, part of what manufacturers sell goes towards product recovery. We don’t have that in Nigeria at the moment,” he said.

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If companies that sell aluminum products “are not held accountable (for collecting waste) then that doesn’t make sense – we’re just going in circles”.

He blames poor legislation, but says an improved Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bill is currently being discussed in the State House of Assembly.

EPR is an environmental policy in many countries that gives manufacturers incentives to take responsibility for their products after use.

Another challenge for recyclers are the CO2 emissions from the energy they use to crush, shred or melt old materials.

For example, Romco uses compressed natural gas to process the aluminum into ingots.

“(It) is still a fossil fuel, but the best and most efficient fossil fuel. It contains neither lead nor sulphur,” said Onovwigun.

However, the company says it wants to become independent of fossil fuels and is “exploring the potential of using solar energy, green hydrogen and biofuels”. – AFP Relax News

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