Waste disposal and management remain a major challenge in many parts of the developing world. And Africa, for one, continues to struggle with this problem. For every chic metropolis dotted with magnificent scenes of spectacular high-rise buildings and neatly-trimmed curbs, there is the odd, foul-smelling dumpsite just around the corner laden with all manner of grotesque waste.
The World Bank Urban Development Series Report has it that Africa currently churns out as much 70 Million tonnes of waste annually. And that figure is very likely to double over the next few years, especially as the continent appears to be witnessing fast-paced economic growth in all spheres and rapid urbanisation.
Waste constitutes a cause for major concern in that it has far-reaching consequences on the environment, which in turn have a bearing on the health of the inhabitants.
As a large amount of the continent’s waste is still dumped in landfills and water bodies, the implications on both terrestrial and aquatic life are quite grave. Hence, the need to address the problem.
It does seem like an unlikely opportunity at first glance but there’s a lot of truth in the assertion that the bulk of the waste churned out from the continent can be recycled or converted into new products. In the more developed parts of the world, fortunes have been built, jobs created, and societies improved from waste collection and recycling/repurposing – which is, in fact, a multi-billion-dollar industry in those circles.
And thankfully, there’s a new breed of African entrepreneurs who have been able to look beyond the grotesque and are now transforming trash into cash. These ‘wastepreneurs’ have recognized the potential in waste and are now creating value from what many would discard as ‘rubbish.’
Now, let’s take a look at five such African entrepreneurs who have gotten the hang of creating wealth from waste.
Alshaimaa Omar – Biomax, Egypt
We kick things off from the ‘land of the Pharaohs and Pyramids’ where a 28-year-old chemical engineer is defying gender stereotypes in her community by treading a path many women her age would instead take a pass on, or perhaps let themselves be coaxed into taking a pass on.
Alshaimaa Omar grew up in Sohag; a conservative rural community located some 500 kilometres south of the capital city, Cairo. Her initial idea was to create renewable energy from agricultural waste gathered from farmlands in her locale to cater to the energy needs of her immediate community.
Today, she is the proud Founder of Biomax; a startup that now has operations in 12 cities and is carving a niche for itself in the area of transforming agricultural waste into biogas. The company has since scaled up its operations to include larger farms in urban areas and the production of organic fertilizers.
Makafui Awuku – Mckingtorch Creatives, Ghana
From Ghana comes the inspiring story of Makafui Awuku whose journey has been a textbook case of few crests and many troughs, but has now found now found fulfillment in churning wonders from plastic waste.
In a bid to join the sparring match against garbage and clean up the streets of Accra, Makafui Awuku founded his clean-tech company, Mckingtorch Creatives, in January 2018 with an innovative mission to turn plastic waste into art.
Having grabbed everyone’s attention and announced his ingenuity with his signature project which involved putting together a mammoth Christmas tree built with over 6,000 plastic bottles, the Ghanaian entrepreneur has gone on to create flower pots, bins, wall-hanging, and even sandals from plastics – in an effort to rid Accra, the Ghanaian capital, off plastic waste.
To mark the 2018 World Environment Day, Makafui also teamed up with one of the biggest manufacturers of bottled water in Ghana to erect a fence with more than 10,000 used bottles.
Determined to create awareness of workable waste-derived solutions among youths, Makafui hopes that young Africans could be an important part of building a plastic-free planet.
Jean Bosco Nzeyimana – Habona, Rwanda
Nyamagabe – a small village in rural Rwanda – brings the story of a confident 25-year-old that is solving some of the problems of his immediate community one briquette at a time.
Jean Bosco Nzeyimana grew up in a poor, rural community that could boast of very little by way of infrastructure or even the basic necessities. Housing was shabby, clean water was hard to find, and electricity was a luxury most of the locals would rather not think about – mostly because it was more non-existent than it was inconsistent.
Due to the absence of electricity and because the community knew no other energy source, wood was the go-to guy for all things fuel.
Jean Bosco was concerned by the devastating deforestation (trees were often cut down for firewood and charcoal), but that was not the only thing that caught his attention. He was also disturbed by the many rubbish-laden landfills that dotted parts of Rwanda, and his village was seeing more than its fair share.
Jean Bosco found a way to solve both problems and the solution involved turning organic waste into clean-burning and efficient briquettes, as well as fertilisers for farmers.
With some support, he was able to set up a business called “Habona” in 2013; which literally translates to “Illumination.” The company collects and sorts garbage to make briquettes, biogas, and organic fertilizers for a customer base that encompasses restaurants, hotels, schools, businesses, farmers, and government offices.
More so, Habona’s biofuels are believed to be currently used by as many as 1,500 households in Rwanda while employing up to 26 people on a permanent basis, and nearly 50 more as casual workers. Thus, empowering people and improving quality of life in parts of rural Rwanda.
Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola – Wecyclers, Nigeria
Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos, which currently hosts over 20 million people, churns out thousands of metric tonnes of waste daily. And for the most part, this waste is not collected and/or disposed of properly. Indiscriminate dumping of waste in gutters and canals clogs up waterways and creates unsightly heaps of trash that often line the city’s busiest parts.
To alleviate this problem, Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola established Wecyclers in 2012. The business is a for-profit enterprise working to help communities rid their neighbourhoods off unmanaged waste. Wecyclers uses low-cost cargo tricycles called “wecycles” to provide convenient recycling services to households in Lagos by using an SMS-based incentives system.
Her waste management efforts in Nigeria have seen her attract quite a buzz both locally and internationally, with names like CNN and The Huffington Post popping up in conversations about her work, amongst others.
Thato Kgatlhanye & Rea Ngwane – Repurpose Schoolbags, South Africa
Thato and Rea were aged 21 and 22 respectively when their collaboration saw them launch a business called Repurpose Schoolbags. They founded the company as a green initiative to help hundreds of school children in their local community in South Africa.
Repurpose Schoolbags provides recycled and low-cost school bags to schoolchildren. The business collects and recycles plastic waste, turning them into school bags for disadvantaged students in their locale.
And it gets even more interesting. These “upcycled” plastic bags have a solar panel fitted in the flap which accumulates charge as the children cover the distance to and from school on foot. The charged solar panels provide lighting at night, helping students do their homework and study better.
The South African duo also embellished the bags with strips of reflective material which is intended to keep the children safe from harm by making them more visible, especially during the early hours of those ‘slow-breaking days.’
They have since partnered various individuals and organisations in producing the bags and handing them to the kids as charity donations, while also winning numerous awards for their efforts.
Featured Image Courtesy: AfDB.org