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Cycling to Recycle

Wecyclers, a Nigerian entrepreneur has found a low-tech way to encourage citizens to recycle their trash, clean up their city and make money, too.

Jessica Ellis, Sparknews


Read more on Les Echos (in French).

Jessica Ellis

In Lagos, Nigeria, the sights and smells of uncollected garbage are shocking. Piles of trash lay on streets, outside homes, around places of work and in areas where children play. Waste fills drainage areas and waterways that lead to the Atlantic Ocean, creating breeding grounds for diseases like malaria.

Cities around the world struggle with waste management. Lagos is one where the situation is particularly dire—an estimated two-thirds of the population live in slums, many without access to reliable trash collection, and recycling is minimal at best.

Now a four-year- old eco startup called Wecyclers is determined to make recycling a popular practice in Lagos and across the African continent by helping people to see trash as a valuable resource.

Wecyclers runs on teamwork, using an incentive-based program in the megacity’s low- income areas (where municipal services often don’t reach) and empowering local citizens to help solve Lagos’s waste problem.

It’s an “everyone wins” business model. A fleet of cyclists pedal custom-made cargo tricycles door to door every week, down narrow, unpaved streets where trucks can’t easily go, weighing and collecting recyclable waste from registered households. Members receive points for every kilogram of waste recycled, which they can exchange for goods.

“We help our subscribers save, using their waste for things they aspire to have. This could be a TV set, a sewing machine or even much-needed cash to fund a wedding,” said Wecyclers’ CEO and founder, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola.

Once Wecyclers collects the recyclable rubbish, the items are sorted, bagged and sold to recycling factories in Nigeria that use the material to make new products such as pillow stuffing.

Lagos is Africa’s most populous metropolitan area, with an estimated 21 million people. It generates more than 17,000 tonnes of waste daily, according to the city’s waste management authority, creating major health and environmental hazards in many communities. Currently only an estimated 40 percent of the city’s waste is collected and 13 percent is recycled.

Since 2012, Wecyclers has picked up 1,000 tonnes of household waste, signed up more than 11,000 households and created 103 jobs. “The proof that Wecyclers is making a difference to me is the quantum of waste we collect daily,” said Adebiyi-Abiola.

“Sometimes I stop and think about what would happen in those communities if we didn’t collect the waste.”

Born and raised in Lagos, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola moved to the U.S. at 17 to further her education. She came up with the concept for Wecyclers while pursuing an MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a class aimed at finding practical solutions to help the poorest people. “In Nigeria about 70 percent of the population lives at the base of the pyramid. This realization awoke a new consciousness in me,” she said.

In the beginning, Wecyclers received support from various MIT programs. Today the company gets funding and support from the Lagos State Government, private companies such as DHL, Unilever and Oracle Corporation, and from foundations like Small World Foundation. Recently, Eric-Vincent Guichard of Gravitas Capital offered to issue a Diaspora bond for Wecyclers, partially backed by USAID.

Wecyclers has received international recognition, too. It was a 2016 SXSW Eco Startup Showcase finalist, and at press time Adebiyi-Abiola was in the running for an All Africa Business Leader Award.

But the company still faces many challenges. Adebiyi-Abiola said it has yet to make a profit, though it is close. “Right now we bear the full cost of waste collection. We need the government to make policies that would encourage producers to take responsibility for their waste.”

Despite the obstacles, she’s determined to expand operations and help change people’s attitudes toward waste. “I think we are on to something when I see the new consciousness in the eyes of the people we serve; Adebiyi-Abiola said. They understand that waste has a value now and they are keen to collect income and improve their lives.”

A Lagos, au Nigeria, on est choqué par la vue et l’odeur des ordures non ramassées. Des tas de détritus jonchent les rues et s’amassent à l’extérieur des maisons, autour des lieux de travail et dans les zones où les enfants jouent. Les ordures remplissent les voies d’écoulement des égouts et les voies navigables qui mènent à l’océan Atlantique, créant ainsi un terrain propice au développement des maladies comme la malaria.

Les villes du monde entier éprouvent des difficultés à gérer leurs déchets, mais le cas de Lagos est particulièrement désastreux. On estime que les deux tiers de la population habitent dans des bidonvilles. Beaucoup n’ont pas accès à un ramassage des ordures fiable et le recyclage y est pratiquement inexistant.

Née il y a quatre ans, une petite entreprise écolo appelée « Wecyclers  » est déterminée à faire du recyclage une pratique courante à Lagos et dans l’ensemble du continent africain en aidant la population à voir dans les ordures une source de valeur. Wecyclers fonctionne grâce au travail d’équipe, en mettant en place des mesures de collecte incitatives dans les zones de la mégalopole où les revenus sont les plus faibles.

C’est un business model où tout le monde est gagnant. Chaque semaine, une flottille de cyclistes pédalent sur des triporteurs fabriqués sur mesure en faisant du porte-à-porte. Le long d’étroites ruelles non pavées, où des camions ne pourraient pas circuler, ils pèsent et ramassent des déchets recyclables auprès des foyers inscrits au programme de collecte. Les membres reçoivent des points pour chaque kilogramme de déchets recyclés, points qu’ils peuvent échanger ­contre des marchandises. « Nous aidons nos souscripteurs à économiser en utilisant leurs déchets pour obtenir des choses qu’ils souhaitent posséder « , explique la PDG et fondatrice de Wecyclers, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola. Une fois les ordures recyclables ramassées par Wecyclers, les articles sont triés, emballés et vendus à des entreprises de recyclage nigérianes, qui utilisent les matériaux pour fabriquer de nouveaux produits comme du rembourrage pour les oreillers.

Lagos est la région métropolitaine la plus peuplée d’Afrique, avec environ 21 millions d’habitants. 10.000 tonnes de déchets sont produites tous les jours, créant ainsi des risques majeurs pour la santé et l’environnement dans de nombreuses communautés. Actuellement, on estime que seulement 40 % environ des déchets de la ville sont ramassés et 13 % sont recyclés.

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