ANNA Ayanda is a widow living in Aleyita, a settlement along Airport Road, she lost three out of her five children and now she is partly responsible for twenty grandchildren.
This led her to seek livelihood through recyclable plastic.
As a waste picker, her children also help gather them; after sorting the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, she stacks them in a makeshift stockpile, and on collection days her items fill up the truck and overflow sometimes.
She appreciates the venture with hopes that things get better.
“Honestly, picking plastics has helped me, I am enjoying it. Over the years, I used the money gathered from plastic to build a house which is collapsing because I couldn’t buy wood in time.
“We are happy to be doing the work but we need them to give us sacs, more money, and uniforms too,” she said.
Many women like Ayanda are making a living from recyclable waste, this has become a trend for scavengers, individuals and even households in Abuja.
With Social Enterprises in recycling, one company is providing a means for low-income populations to earn from refuse as economic hardship bites harder.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report, in August 2022 Inflation continues to soar at 20.52 per cent, compared to 17.07 per cent in August 2021. This is the highest in 17 years, measured using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
To the general public, this means lower purchasing power amid the steady rising cost of goods, transportation, and services.
Ayanda says plastics occupy so much space and the provision of sacs makes storage easier. Although she feeds with the money gotten from plastics, it is not enough as she requests funds in form of grants or loans to complete the building so that people would see the value in her work.
She introduced the scheme to her friend’s daughter Godiya David, a young mother in her twenties who gathers plastic.
Godiya says she also gets plastic bottles from her mother’s workplace.
With Godiya’s four years of experience in exchanging plastics for money, she says it is helpful but some things are necessary to keep them going.
“The only issue I have with them is the sack, they don’t give us sacks like before. They are discouraging us by not bringing those sacks because without sacs there is nowhere to keep plastics.
“And also, they should come more often for collection, at least every 3 – 4 times in a month would be good,” she said.
Godiya also mentioned that a bank account was opened for those engaging in the initiative saying it had a N2,000 transaction limit, which is a problem for her.
Solid waste management is an expensive global problem
Worldwide only about 9 per cent of trash gets recycled, the majority of refuse pollutes oceans, clogs drains and causes floods, transmits diseases and increases respiratory problems through airborne pollutants emitted from burning plastic waste such as dioxin, lead poisoning, harming animals, and affecting economic development.
Improper trash disposal from decades of industrial action requires urgent measures; meanwhile, urbanisation and population increase make waste collection and disposal more difficult.
Plastics made from fossil fuels are used daily for many things, plastic waste makes up 80 per cent of marine pollution, and around 8 to 10 million metric tons end up in the ocean annually.
According to Ocean Literacy Portal, by 2050, plastic waste could outnumber fish in the sea as more plastics were produced in the last decade than in the last century.
And these items take 500-1000 years to degrade as they eventually become microplastics – partial degradation.
Plastic waste is a pressing challenge in urban and rural Nigeria, the streets are an eyesore littered with plastic, and while the country generates more than 32 million tons of solid waste annually, only 20-30 per cent is collected.
Recently, entrepreneurs are working hard to tackle the rubbish mountain by getting involved in the circular economy via recycling despite the challenges.
For instance, in Abuja, Chanja Datti is a recycling company tapping into the “Cash for Trash” initiative aimed at providing solutions to waste management while empowering waste pickers economically looking at the rising cost of living.
How the Cash 4 Trash works…
The cash 4 trash initiative aims to involve everyone in proper waste disposal by bringing recycling hubs closer to households so they do not go far to drop off their recyclable waste.
The founder, Chanja Datti Olufunto Boroffice said the initiative was born out of the need to get everyone involved in proper waste disposal by sorting recyclables of the best quality, as well as improving the livelihood of the poor.
According to Boroffice, the initiative had reached over 1500 people in the city. Anyone can bring trash; in partnership with Jaiz bank, people get a bank account where the earnings from the recyclables collected are deposited.
“With as low as 1kg of waste, you can open a bank account.
“We have a mix of individual waste pickers and scavengers who drop off waste and get paid.
“Cash 4 Trash is one of the innovative solutions that we have provided and basically, we are putting 40-foot containers in places where it becomes an income-generating initiative for people in the community.
“There are people for example women who have never had a bank account and all of a sudden, they can use as small as one kilogram of waste to open a bank account.
“It is changing the tone of how these women see themselves and taking them away from everything, domestic violence to economic empowerment,” she said.
With 11 collection hubs in Abuja FCT, Boroffice said that over 1,000 tons of trash have been recycled since Cash 4 Trash started in 2019, while in 7 years Chanja Datti has done about 5,200 tons since its inception.
Boroffice says the company aims to get recyclable wastes at their best quality directly from households, and also inform people on how to sort their waste while giving cash rewards in exchange for trash.
These recyclables are processed into pellets and flakes for other manufacturers, to be reused in making other products.
She recounts the challenges faced in the entire process from collection to recycling and these include logistics, unstable power supply, and shortage of machinery and space amongst others.
The Women Recyclers Empowerment Initiative (WREI)…
Waste Africa partners with Chanja Datti for the Women Recyclers Empowerment Initiative (WREI) where women from low-income communities are involved in Cash for Trash.
Unlike Ayanda and Godiya, in June 2022, the women were granted 3 packs of PET products as a way of empowering them to start a business, in addition to earnings from recyclables.
Hadiza Aliyu, women leader in one of the communities at Karamajiji, Airport Road, Abuja says the initiative is helpful but they have some concerns.
“Many of us go to pick plastics by ourselves while others buy from scavengers (baban bola).
“They stopped giving us sacs so we buy nets and these are not returned. We need sacs and gloves to protect our hands while picking trash,” she explained.
Aliyu also mentioned that it would be good to place a container in Karamajiji due to the constraints of storage space.
Hauwa Mohammed is another beneficiary who comes from Kaduna to Abuja because of the plastic business.
The women described her as one of the biggest collectors among them.
Mohammed said she collects from 500 kilos to 900 kilos of plastic, as she buys from baban bola and she picks some herself.
“The Plastic business is good I can advise other women to do it. Right now I have over 500 kilos of plastic.
“But asides from the provision of sacks and gloves, we need capital,” she said.
Mohammed told The ICIR that four years ago when the project started, the company promised a N500, 000 grant within six months.
The failure to fulfil the promise made some women drop out of the scheme leaving women such as Hadiza Aliyu and Hauwa Mohammed who are still in the plastic enterprise.
Both women mentioned that the company should recognise their efforts and consider them for business capital, they expressed how the other women who dropped out still make fun of them and their dirty business of gathering plastics.
Scavengers sanction in Abuja
In 2018 the FCTA banned the activities of scavengers (baban bola) in Abuja city centre for security purposes, especially theft. These are waste pickers who move around households, dumpsters, and dumpsites to buy and pick up recyclable items from residents.
Boroffice told The ICIR that not all of them are dubious.
“I work closely with several scavengers, not all of them are into crime, some are hardworking and looking for a means to support themselves and their families in their villages, but they also have that among them,” she explained.
The reporter visited Gosa Landfills, Idu, a major dumpsite in the FCT where Muhamadu Suraju, 25, who has been a scavenger for 12 years, said he makes from N10, 000 to N50, 000 depending on the measurement.
Suraju told the reporter that from the money made, he owns a house, married two wives, and lives comfortably.
On the sanction of scavengers who perpetrate crime in the city, Suraju said there are good and bad ones.
“Some buy from people and go to sell to get their gain, while there are some who pick people’s things to sell, these are the ones who spoil the market for scavengers in the city.
“Even though people see them as the same, they are not the same,” he said.
Young men like Suraju at the dumpsite have a different fate, as they belong to an organised body with a chairman, vigilante and punitive measures.
“Stealing is rare, we have vigilante, and a system of punishing offenders we have meetings every Sunday where we deliberate on issues,” he said.
However, for most people, the Cash 4 Trash initiative looks like a scavenger affair but it is for everyone he said.
The goal is to educate people about proper waste disposal via sorting trash into recyclable and organic waste, also it is aimed at instilling behavioural change, thereby altering the careless attitude towards waste disposal to a positive intentional mindset.
By providing cash rewards, the initiative intends to merge technology into the solution via an application, which can repurpose cash rewards for payment of utility bills such as cable and electricity.
The founder said Recykoin is available for only Abuja residents, it can be downloaded from Google Play Store; from September users can register, and start recycling to get rewards.
Boroffice expressed plans which include the solution being pitched to the AEPB on branding uniforms for scavengers and getting them registered, putting recycling cages at the National Assembly, using bikes constructed with cages for pickup of recyclables, and also expanding reach to other places.
This story has been supported by Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.