• Saturday, April 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

The wealth in waste

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Disused plastics, iron, scraps of aluminium and steel are not worthless. In 2011, aluminium ingots and alloys worth $137 million were exported to mainly Japan, India and Ghana.

A kilogramme (kg) of aluminium sells for between N130 and N150, copper N700, and steel N20. There is a huge potential for this business going by Nigeria’s per capita consumption for steel and aluminium. The annual per capita consumption of steel and aluminium in the country is about 10kg and 0.3kg, respectively.

Nigeria’s consumption of aluminium is on the increase. GZI, an aluminium can manufacturer that started business in 2010, has doubled its capacity from 1.2 billion cans a year in two years. Africa’s largest aluminium can factory in Aba, financed by Fidelity Bank, will produce 1.2 billion cans a year; SABMiller’s brewery in Onitsha is an immediate beneficiary.

Across metropolitan Lagos and other towns and cities around the country, you find centres where scraps are sold to collectors who in turn sell them to recycling companies. Organic waste generated in markets and farms can be recycled into fertiliser or used to generate power.

Lagos State, with recycling banks and management of solid waste, is a model for other states. With a population of close to 18 million people, waste management is a top priority for the Lagos State government. Lagos produces 9,000 tonnes of waste, most of which is nylon and plastics.

Ethylene, the most widely used petrochemical, is the basic raw material for industrial and consumer products. Dangote Agrosacks exported $396,750 worth of polypropylene recycled pellets to the US in 2011. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are the most valuable and recyclable of all plastic materials. An ecosystem – reclaimers, processors and manufacturers – can harness the wealth in waste.

Technology for recycling and processing biodegradable waste is becoming widespread. The initial outlay may be expensive but processors and manufacturers can cluster to share services, say, power generation. For instance, Jenbacher gas engines run on natural gas, biogas, landfill gas, coal mine gas, sewage gas, and more. The Minhe animal husbandry facility, China’s largest chicken farm, runs a Jenbacher biogas plant with waste generated on the farm.

Recycling of scrap aluminium salvaged from abandoned or disused airplanes is big business. Aayu Steel Mills, a company dismantling over 60 disused aircraft in the nation’s airports, may realise over N480 million.

Similar opportunities exist for second-hand cars. Nigeria’s income per person, $1,600, means that most Nigerians opt for used cars. According to Coscharis Motors, new cars sold annually in Nigeria are less than 70,000 units and the number of used cars sold is about 350,000. Used tyres, too, have immense value.

SoleRebels, a fast growing, innovative Ethiopian shoe brand, “made two million dollars in sales in 2011 and is expecting to generate over $15 to $20 million in revenue by 2015”, according to Inter Press Service.

Bethlehem Tilahaun Alemu founded soleRebels in 2005. Her handcrafted shoes are made from 100 percent local input: recycled car tyres. Alemu says the company has been able to “riff, recreate, and re-imagine the traditional ‘selate’ and ‘barabasso’ shoes”. Scraps of all types have huge value and should not be ignored or thrown away; it’s like burying money.