One Woman's Solution to the Trash Crisis in NigeriaNigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 180 million residents within its borders. Fortunately, population growth is not the only growth that Nigeria has been experiencing. Over the last decade, Nigeria’s sizable population has gone to work, quite literally. Sustained growth in the finance, communications, technology, entertainment and service sectors led Nigeria to eclipse South Africa as the continent’s largest economy in 2014. Economic growth is certainly a positive indicator for overall development, but the country’s rapid market expansion is exacerbating the trash crisis in Nigeria, one of the country’s most pressing challenges.

Nigeria’s problem with urban waste management has been mounting for quite some time. Inadequate funding for waste management, poor policies, limited infrastructure and a dearth of professionals with the know-how to address this issue have had undesirable consequences for Nigeria. Urbanization and development have piled on additional issues. Car emissions are unregulated, and Nigerians often turn to generators that emit harmful fumes because of spotty electricity. To combat the trash crisis in Nigeria, many citizens have adopted waste burning as a regular practice. As a result, the country is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world.

Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, has become somewhat of a poster child for the global trash crisis. As trash piles built up on the streets and pollution worsened, one woman from the city found a solution while studying abroad at MIT. A Lagos native, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola relocated to the U.S. to pursue an MBA at MIT. What started as a school assignment grew into the lauded social enterprise known today as Wecyclers.

Adebiyi-Abiola launched Wecyclers in Lagos in 2013 as an answer to the trash crisis in Nigeria. Wecyclers is a low-cost social enterprise that incentivizes recycling for the residents of Lagos’ low-income communities. The process is simple:

  • Lagos households sign up for the recycling collection service online.
  • Participants separate recyclables according to Wecyclers’ guidelines for collection.
  • Wecyclers employees travel on cargo bikes to collect the recyclables once a week, and award points based on weight via an SMS platform.
  • Once participants accumulate a certain amount of points, they can redeem them for various prizes including household goods, electronics and even cash. Wecyclers has teamed up with major brands like Coca-Cola to provide rewards.
  • Wecyclers sells collected recyclables on the market to large buyers of recyclable materials.

Wecyclers’ waste-to-wealth model quickly became a success. Wecyclers recycled more than 525 tons of waste in its first two years. Since launching, the company has enjoyed partnerships with the Lagos Waste Management Agency and corporate sponsors like DHL, Oracle and Unilever. Wecyclers has also received widespread recognition, recently earning the Le Monde Smart-Cities 2017 Global Innovation Award among others.

Since its inception, Wecyclers has expanded beyond a community rewards-for-recycling program. Today, Wecyclers provides both residential and commercial waste collection. The company also conducts sustainability training and consulting for organizations, helping corporate clients and donors develop and implement socially responsible initiatives. Wecyclers has benefited community members and various stakeholders in numerous ways, transforming the old adage: one person’s trash may very well be their treasure.

– Chantel Baul

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in KenyaKalobeyei is a town located in the northwestern part of Kenya that was built by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) along with the local government of Turkana county. The town was designed as a location where refugees could become integrated with the local community and where this integration would benefit shared services and markets, thereby reducing the cost for Western aid donors. Unfortunately, this has not exactly worked out as planned for refugees in Kenya.

There have been quite a few issues that have risen since the town’s creation. The most prominent of these issues is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war greatly intensified, causing many refugees in Kenya to arrive with hardly anything more than the clothes on their backs, as well as without the proper resources that would help them make an attempt at a new life.

The World Food Programme provides $14 per month as a cash allowance to each refugee, which is supposed to cover up to 80 percent of an individual’s needs in the town. This may not be enough to live off of due to the current conditions these refugees are left in after the civil war, especially since Kalobeyei is hosting nearly 40,000 refugees, including individuals from places such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

There have also been many complaints from the refugees in Kenya who are currently residing in Kalobeyei. Refugees say that little to nothing that they were promised has been offered in the town. They have found themselves in an isolated camp where both food and water are in short supply and that residents are at the mercy of thievery that goes on within Kalobeyei. One resident of the town—an Ethiopian refugee—said, “When they brought us here, we were told that the place would be like a community village with many development projects, a school, clinic, market and almost everything close by,” but there is close to nothing within the settlement that is within walking distance.

When the UNHCR’s office in Kenya heard of this story, communications director Yvonne Ndege had a drastically different description of what life was like residents of Kalobeyei saying that the town was in fact not built in a remote area and had markets, water tanks and primary schools on-site, as well as stating that “there is no heightened security situation or security threat at Kalobeyei or Kakuma.” She went on to explain that refugees had the option to visit the camp before relocating and that perhaps they “may have had different expectations,” despite having viewed Kalobeyei in advance.

Whatever the case may be, it is wise to be empathetic and understanding toward refugees in Kenya when it comes to these situations—having to relocate yourself and your family is never easy, and struggling in a new environment does not make anything less difficult. Hopefully, the UNHCR will empathize and refugees in Kenya will be able to resolve and overcome the issues with Kalobeyei, for the town is meant to only do good.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr


Waste management is an increasingly daunting problem for the country of Bangladesh, where as much as 50 percent of waste goes uncollected. Uncollected waste goes untreated, resulting in more water contamination, disease and greenhouse gas emissions. Untreated waste generates methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Between 2005 and 2020, emissions as a result of untreated waste in Bangladesh are expected to rise 22 percent.

The capital city of Dhaka is not only the most densely populated area; it is also home to the worst waste management in the country. In 2010, Dhaka generated 4,700 metric tons of waste daily. Fortunately, 80 percent of the waste Bangladesh produces is organic material. Maqsood Sinha and Iftekhar Enayetullah saw this as an opportunity and decided to turn the organic waste in Bangladesh into something both profitable and beneficial to the community: compost.

The two enterprising men started an organization called Waste Concern and set up community-based composting. Several families (three to seven) share chest-high metal barrels into which they deposit their food scraps. The composting barrels hold up to 400 pounds of waste, sit on concrete bases and, through specially drilled holes, encourage aerobic decomposition.

Sinha and Enayetullah started Waste Concern in 1995, taking their barrels door-to-door. Since then, the organization has served 30,000 people in Dhaka city and 100,000 people in 14 other cities and towns in Bangladesh, including slums and low and middle-income communities. Composting the organic waste reduces methane emissions by half a ton and eliminates a significant amount of municipal waste. Community-based composting helps control waste in Bangladesh and also opens up job opportunities for low-income sectors, helping to lift people out of poverty.

The project has saved over $1 million in waste management due to the revenue created from the compost itself and the simple, cost-effective system needed to create it. As a result of its success as a small-scale operation in Dhaka, Waste Concern plans to expand into a bigger operation, consume more waste and dump out more compost.

The project’s growth reflects Bangladesh’s push to reduce the country’s waste output and strengthen its economic status. Getting the community involved not only decreases the waste in Bangladesh, but it also establishes an environment of accountability and family.

Taylor Elgarten

Photo: Flickr

Fruit Production Waste_Kenya

Kenya is a country in East Africa known for its wildlife and national parks whose economy has been steadily improving. According to the latest quarterly report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya’s economy grew by 6.2 percent in the second quarter, compared to 5.9 percent in the same period in 2015. The World Bank primarily attributes this expansion to developments in agriculture.

Agriculture in Kenya contributes significantly to the country’s economy. Innovations in the industry will not only improve the lives of rural farmers who are more susceptible to poverty, but will also improve the country’s overall economy.

According to government estimates, as much as 50 percent of Kenya’s harvested fruit goes to waste. Contributing factors to post-harvest loss include insects and pest infestations, bruising by means of improper transportation methods and deterioration caused by heat. A post-harvest loss tends to affect smaller farmers more harshly; the losses cut into already limited sources of income.

YieldWise Partners With Organizations to Aid Farmers

In response to these conditions, nonprofit organizations TechnoServe and the Rockefeller Initiative have come together to aid YieldWise, an initiative created to curb post-harvest waste and increase income for farmers in Kenya.

The program teaches techniques to manage pests through non-chemical means, determine optimal harvesting times and prepare proper packaging to minimize product loss. YieldWise has trained more than 15,000 farmers on how to eliminate post-harvest loss since 2015.

Through this program, small farmers form connections to potential buyers. For example, YieldWise works with a business group in Embu, in northern Kenya, to facilitate the production of mango crisps and mango flour that can be mixed with other products for a drinkable source of nutrition.

YieldWise is also helping farmers extend the shelf life of crops by providing solar-powered refrigerators. These refrigerators can currently cool three and a half metric tons of fruit for approximately 150 local farmers like John Musomba, who grows mango on a two-acre farm in Nziu, Kenya.

“With the organic control interventions in addition to the cold storage facility, I now harvest and sell 250 [metric tons] of mango fruits in a year,” Musomba said in a recent interview with Reuters. This yield is a 150 percent increase from his harvest before the program.

Through the help of this nonprofit collaboration, small farmers can take steps to advance their own businesses while improving Kenya’s agriculture and economy.

Casie Wilson

Photo: Flickr


The drinking water in Canada is generally of excellent quality. The risks to the drinking water supply are minimal. However, the minerals, silt, vegetation, fertilizers and agricultural run-off in the water may pose some health risks.

Canada has a multi-barrier approach to safe drinking water which serves as a guideline for every drinking water system and is used to maintain water quality.

The federal government plays the most important role in scientific research monitoring and leadership on the development of guidelines for water quality in Canada. Seventy-five percent of Canadians are serviced by municipal sewer systems and the remaining 25 percent by septic disposal systems. Despite the best efforts of suppliers, municipal water supplies can sometimes become contaminated and in these cases, precautionary measures such as boiling water before consumption is advised.

Municipal water waste discharges were one of the largest sources of pollution to the water quality in Canada in 2006 and generated 84 percent of the water effluents reported to the National Pollutant Release Inventory.

The water quality in Canada earns an ‘A’ grade for water quality and ranks 4th out of 17 peer OECD countries. Water quality in Canada is mostly affected by industrial effluent, agricultural runoff and municipal sewage pollution.

Sewage treatment continues to improve as more municipalities upgrade their treatment facilities and there has been an increase in the frequency and extent to which drinking water guidelines for nitrate have been exceeded in groundwater across the country.

Data collected from the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment’s water quality index reports that from 2007 to 2009, the freshwater quality was rated marginally fair at 41 percent of the water stations, good at 33 percent of the stations and excellent at 10 percent of the stations, with only 16 percent rated poor.

The quality of water in Canada is the best it has ever been and is much better today than it was 30 years ago.

Rochelle R. Dean

Photo: Flickr

Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a sovereign island nation in free association with New Zealand. The main island, Rarotonga, is home to 70% of the nation’s estimated 17,800 people. Rarotonga is a small island, measuring approximately 26 square miles, with only one airport to accommodate its primary source of income: tourism.

Tourism constitutes more than half of the nation’s GDP and is the main stimulant of economic growth. However, it also contributes to the growing problem of waste management in the Cook Islands.

Waste collection is provided to all households Monday through Saturday by two private contractors operating in conjunction with the Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI). Businesses are responsible for disposing of their own waste in the sanitary landfill located in Avarua, the most populous district of Rarotonga and the nation’s capital.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand, along with support from the private sector, provide aid to improve the conditions of waste management in the Cook Islands. The Waste Management Facility, managed by ICI, employs three staff members at the landfill and another five at the recycling center. The sanitary landfill was designed in 2006 with an intended lifespan of 15 years but has now reached its capacity.

Avarua is also home to four operational incinerators used to burn garbage, two of which are used solely for airline waste and medical waste and none of which possess emissions control technology. In addition, open burning in backyards and public spaces is a common practice amongst Cook Islanders.

This is a problem, as open burning and the resulting emissions can be detrimental to human and environmental health. Open burning has been proven to emit significantly more harmful pollutants than municipal incinerators, releasing twice as many furans, 17 times as many dioxins and 40 times more ash, as well as carbon monoxide and dioxide, lead, arsenic, mercury, acid vapors and carcinogenic tars.

This not only because is there no emission control, but because open fires burn at lower temperatures, inhibiting complete combustion of the waste being burned. They also operate closer to the ground, increasing the risk of exposure to harmful effects.

Tourism is a major contributor to the abundance of refuse which has made it exceedingly difficult to control in the Cook Islands. However, the income generated from tourism is needed to stimulate the growth of the waste management system. After all, the standard set for tourists has been the principal catalyst for discussion over the development of waste management in the Cook Islands. The government is looking to break this waste cycle by improving facility quality.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

 

Water Quality in Vietnam
Vietnam’s 3,260 km coastline and extensive river networks have given the country an economic and industrial advantage. However, the exploitation and resulting pollution of the rivers has severely limited people’s access to clean drinking water. Despite efforts taken to improve water quality in Vietnam and limit the unmindful disposal of factory waste, polluted water still causes up to 80 percent of illnesses nationwide.

Vietnam has one of the highest child malnutrition rates in Southeast Asia, and as many as 44 percent of Vietnamese children fall ill with whipworms, hookworms or roundworms. Other common water-borne illnesses in Vietnam include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E and Typhoid Fever, all of which are most commonly spread by fecal contamination of drinking water.

The pollution most profoundly impacts those living in central and southern Vietnam, where the majority of waterways are used for farming and power. Although water quality in Vietnam‘s upstream rivers such as the Red River remains acceptable, those living downstream or in urban areas are at greater risk of contracting water-borne illnesses.

According to the National Center for Water Resources Planning and Investigation, water samples from Binh Chanh, Cu Chi and District 12 contain unsafe levels of ammonia and manganese. Arsenic contamination in water has also been a threat to the entire nation.

Untreated industrial waste is the primary cause of poor water quality in Vietnam, as fifty industrial zones discharge 105 million liters of largely untreated wastewater into the Saigon every day. International water resource organizations recommend limiting river flow exploitation to 30 percent, but, according to a report in the Voice of Vietnam online journal, the Ninh Thuan province exploits as much as 80 percent. This has degraded the basins in the Red River, the Thai Binh River and the Dong Nai River.

Hydropower plants have been built on all 13 big river networks, as well as on small rivers. The power plants have cut the river networks into artificial water reservoirs and have upset the river’s water storage. This not only devastates the forests and water life, but it makes people living downstream from these areas particularly vulnerable to pollution from farming pesticides, fertilizer, factory runoff, fish farms and wastewater.

Vietnam is developing its hydropower infrastructure to keep up with its increasing demand for energy. While the existing administrative and legal framework for pollution control is substantial, the problem, according to Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, a professor at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, is law enforcement. “We need to have strong punishments,” Oanh says, especially with larger power plants. He also says that people need to be aware of the issue so that they do not contribute to the pollution themselves.

Some of the greatest problems regarding pollution control are low fines, vague criteria for identifying polluters, low monitoring capacity, little willingness to enforce regulations and inadequate funding. Legislation passed in the last decade, however, has made provisions for harsher sanctions against polluters, such as the 2005 revised Law on Environmental Protection.

Funding for pollution control has also increased over the last ten years on both the national and provincial levels. For example, the HCMC Waste Recycling Fund targets waste management firms, while the Vietnam Environmental Protection Fund targets pollution control in urban areas, craft villages and hospitals.

Flexible funding, effective audits and knowledge as to who polluters are should reduce the waste going into Vietnamese rivers. The benefits of these changes will protect future generations from serious illnesses, and ultimately prepare the country for more sustainable economic development.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Russia
During the final preparation stages for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, journalists covered the peculiar conditions of their and the athletes’ living quarters for the duration of the sporting event, including water quality in Russia.

A Chicago Tribune reporter posted a picture on social media of the warning near the sink of her hotel bathroom that read, “Do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.” Another reporter tweeted, “peach juice…oh wait, that’s water,” and many other reporters joined in on the spectacle.

However, what seemed entertaining for the press was and continues to be a harsh reality for Russians. Over 10 million people lack access to quality drinking water in Russia and 60 percent of the country’s population drinks water from contaminated wells.

Russian regulatory bodies report that between 35 percent and 60 percent of the country’s drinking water reserves do not meet sanitary standards. Forty percent of surface water and 17 percent of underground spring water are not safe enough to drink. Russian rivers and lakes contain pollution from agricultural and industrial waste in amounts that exceed all minimum standards.

The poor water quality in Russia is due to the “thousands of companies [that] have dumped dangerous chemicals into rivers and lakes, and these pollutants are inevitably absorbed into the human body through water and food,” according to Greenpeace. Waterborne illness as a result of such pollution behaviors contributes to the deaths of more than 3 million people every year — more deaths than those a war causes.

Greenpeace also reports that “companies are not adopting clean technologies, and the government is ineffectual when it comes to preventing criminals from poisoning the water.” However, many Russian companies have started to improve water quality, offering an increasing number of water purifying technologies.

Traditional water purification methods include ozonation, chlorination, UV treatment, ultrafiltration and electrolysis. The use of chlorine and ozone is dangerous because they are poisonous substances and the use of ultraviolet light is inefficient because it purifies water only near the source. Thus, the safest and most effective is electrolysis.

A team of former equipment suppliers to Russia’s largest energy company, Gazprom, and the Novosibirsk Institute of Mining have created and implemented a new water purification system called the Aquifer. The system uses electrolysis to kill bacteria and stirs the water intensively to give it more oxygen. Because the system has no moving parts, the Aquifer will improve the water quality in Russia while reducing energy consumption.

Experts predict that the demand for water supply will exceed the global supply by more than 50 percent by 2025 if there is no improvement in access to quality drinking water. Sustainable solutions like the Aquifer give hope to reversing the trend.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Recycling Plastic Waste
When brainstorming solutions for global poverty, it’s important to consider how we can use existing resources more efficiently. The world wastes far more resources than it needs to, and one major source of waste is plastic. Several entrepreneurs today are recycling plastic waste into productive materials.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), out of 32 million tons of plastic waste produced in 2012, only 9 percent was actually recycled. Plastic is pound-for-pound more valuable than steel, and letting so much of it go to waste is a real shame.

Several ideas for utilizing plastic waste to combat poverty have been implemented. For example, the company Plastic Bank pays people to collect plastic waste in exchange for practical items like food and clothing. This strategy removes plastic from areas such as beaches where it poses an environmental threat while simultaneously giving impoverished people a chance to earn things they need.

Plastic is a versatile material that can be used for a myriad of purposes. EcoDomum is a Mexican startup that collects used plastic materials with which to build housing. It takes the company about a week to make a house from recycled plastic materials, and one 430-square-foot unit costs around 5000 pesos (around $280 U.S. dollars) to build. The short amount of time and low cost required to build these houses make them an efficient tool for improving the living conditions of impoverished people.

While companies can utilize recycled plastic waste for large-scale construction jobs like this, it’s also possible to use plastic for small-scale local operations. A group of older women in Tennessee have made it their mission to make beds for the homeless out of discarded plastic bags. The women receive donated bags, cut them into strips and tie those strips into a sort of plastic yarn, which they then use to crochet sleeping mats.

Recycling plastic waste into productive materials positively impacts the environment as well as the world’s poor. It’s an enterprise that can be undertaken anywhere at both community and global levels.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

Poverty_Colombia
Across the world, landfills are awash with plastic that takes at least 500 years to decompose. Poverty in Colombia is on the rise, and so too in numerous countries around the globe. In addition, there is a major shortage of inexpensive housing for the 40% of people in Africa and Latin America who are homeless. Thankfully, a new Colombian enterprise has found a way to solve both of these problems simultaneously, thus helping to alleviate poverty in Colombia.

Conceptos Plásticos

The organization Conceptos Plasticos turns recycled plastic into interlocking, lego-like bricks that can be easily and inexpensively assembled by four people in five days. The houses do not require adhesives, so they be dismantled and transported easily.

Founder Oscar Mendez created this program as part of his architecture graduate thesis. Inexpensive, mobile housing that helps the environment serves as the perfect solution for impoverished people in Colombia.

The lack of dwellings and abundance of plastic make Colombia the perfect place to launch this project. Across Latin America, 33% of families live in unsuitable homes. His project acts as a solution to poverty-stricken Colombians’ difficulty of getting the materials and skilled labor required to build in remote, rural areas.

Another complication is the large amount of internally displaced people. Since so many citizens do not stay in a permanent location, investing in homes proves very difficult for many even those who have the resources.

An Environmental and Fiscal Solution

The environmental impact of these homes is wonderful — Bodega, Colombia alone throws away 750 tons of plastic, and Conceptos Plasticos transforms this unused resource into inexpensive housing.

The organization boasts prices are 30% cheaper than other systems; each house costs about $130 per square meter, or $5,200 total. Their traditional model is 40 square meters, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom.

The blocks can be used to build larger structures as needed. Ease of construction and mobility sets this organization apart from others, and having a house that can be taken apart and moved is invaluable for people in unstable living situations.

Since its founding in 2010, the organization has accomplished a remarkable amount. In Guapi Cauca 2015, Conceptos Plasticos built homes for 42 displaced families. Last year, they built three shelters and four houses.

On July 14 of this year, the organization was one of five out of 2,500 organizations to win funding from the Venture, a competition for businesses providing positive social change. Conceptos Plasticos was awarded the highest amount of $300,000.

Founder Oscar Mendez states that, “We will improve all of our processes and increase our capacity. We want to replicate our business model in other countries.” This funding will help him to not only alleviate poverty in Colombia, but the money will also allow Mendez to provide his innovative housing solution to people all over the world.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr