The Lagos environment is increasingly being choked with plastic waste, despite the potentials for a multi-billion naira recycling industry.
Millions of tons from plastic waste accumulated over time continue to pile up in the environment, with some buried in landfills even though science has established they cannot decompose for hundreds of years.
Experts have opined that Lagos generates the highest volume of plastic wastes in Nigeria and this volume may triple in the coming years, if efforts are not geared toward redirecting the waste to economic benefits.
Most countries in the developed world have regulations, which compel manufacturers to use recycled materials in defined quantities. However, there is no such provision in Nigeria, and many corporate entities appear to be unconscious of the responsibility they owe.
The Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA) which claims to have membership of major manufacturers in Nigeria, who make products in plastic containers, was for 2 months unable to provide response to BusinessDay enquiries on how much waste its supposed partnership with recycling companies has been able to mop up, and recycle.
Wale Adebiyi, managing director, WeCyclers told BusinessDay by phone, that Lagos is estimated to generate about 14 to 15 thousand tons of waste daily. Of that, roughly, 30 percent is recyclable, and 50 percent of this is plastic.
In essence, about 2,250 tons of plastic waste is generated in Lagos on a daily basis, and which can be recycled, annually, this is 821,250 tons (almost 1 million tons). At USD 500 per ton, if only 500,000 tons of plastic can be recycled annually, it will potentially be a USD 250 million industry. This figure will increase significantly when other parts of Nigeria are factored in.
However far less that 10 percent of plastic waste is actually being recycled in Nigeria; the bulk of which ends up constituting nuisance for the environment when it could have been recycled to make money.
“We recycle 50 to 60 tons of plastic waste every month,” said Adebiyi, whose company is one of the industry’s leaders, “there is a lot out there that is not being collected.”
A new crop of individuals who pick plastic wastes for a living can be seen on the streets of Lagos regularly, joining the old hands – scavengers- who pick any form of thrash they consider of value. BusinessDay learnt some of these collectors of recyclable waste, are engaged for a fee, by recycling companies to pick materials they can potentially recycle and sell.
A major challenge as findings showed is that, there aren’t readily available off takers to buy the plastic from these recycling companies.
As industry sources told BusinessDay, only one company, Alkem Nigeria Limited is known to have the capacity to fully process recycled plastic in an industrial process that makes it into raw materials for end users. However, it was gathered that the company does not process plastic into new bottles, rather, it converts into fibre for making cloths.
Olusola Soyanwo, managing director, Integrated Recycling Limited, told BusinessDay her company recycles three tons of plastic every month, which goes mostly to converters who turn it to polymers or fibre.
Soyanwo, had also previously told BusinessDay in an interview, that her company operates at the crushing stage, and mostly sells locally while buyers then export to China (and Asia generally), where they are turned into new plastics, which people then (re)import to Nigeria.
“PET bottles can actually be converted into fibre, and then polyester from where it is made into clothes. It is also now being used for all the stuffing inside pillows,” Soyanwo had said at the time.
But as Adebiyi, Soyanwo and others in the industry have pointed out, there is still need for more investments in Nigeria, for establishment of large recycling facilities that can complete the recycling process in Nigeria. This, they say will stimulate more demand, hence, increase their ability to scale up operations.
“Demand (for recycled plastic) needs to be created by the establishment of large recycling companies that can take recycled plastics to make finished products,” said Adebiyi.
“That can be done by encouraging private investors to go into the space, working with large foundations and companies to really invest in it. Some of the beverage companies that package their products in these plastics need to be able to actually invest in the final off take solution,” he said.