Upcycle Africa
Upcycle Africa is an organization focused on re-orienting and re-educating African communities towards a greener future. Through the process of upcycling, a community can reduce its waste accumulation by transforming useless products, materials or energy into something functional. Sustainable development is a well-known concept that involves achieving economic growth in the long term. Upcycle Africa is proof that the goals of a greener industry and profitable entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive.

Waste Crisis in Africa

Waste management in Africa has been a problem since the rise of industrialization and urbanization. The uncontrolled accumulation of waste in both urban and rural areas continues to skyrocket as the population continues to increase. The African population is the fastest growing among all continents, with an annual growth rate of roughly 3.5%. The growing number of people puts more pressure on waste management efforts because of inadequate infrastructure across a large portion of the continent.

Moreover, Asian countries such as China have banned plastic dumping in their own countries so Africa has become the new destination for waste trade. Countries like Kenya and Senegal received 1 billion tons of waste when China banned waste trading. The main problem with waste in Africa is that waste collection and proper treatment are often insufficient – more than half the waste generated is not collected. Africa has 19 of the 50 largest uncontrolled dumpsites where waste is regularly burned and poorly manipulated. People living nearby have to dig through the waste to make a living and are living with constant exposure to dangerous health risks. Prolonged exposure can result in the development of diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis and diabetes.

Sustainable Development is the Answer

Eradicating poverty sustainably has become a priority even though traditionally, the idea was that the least developed countries (LDCs) could not afford to develop their economies without polluting. Over the years, a shift in mentality has led to the acceptance of greener economies and practices. Many have come to the realization that there will be no future economy in case of mismanagement and overuse of the environment and its resources. This is especially true in Africa, where 15% of the continent’s GDP is agriculturally based. Hence, the livelihood of millions of people depends on the preservation of the African natural environment. Waste management is essential for sustainable development; it not only leads to the collection of waste but also prevents further damage to the environment.

Upcycle Africa in Action

Upcycle Africa’s goal is to transform waste-related problems in Africa into employment opportunities. To achieve this it focuses on three programs.

The first, Zero Waste Campaign, addresses the principal problem of waste accumulation in African countries – waste pollution. Upcycle Africa believes that to achieve more effective results, the emphasis should be on specific communities. Understanding how waste can be economically beneficial can be difficult, so improving education is one of the core objectives of the program.

The second program, Waste to Wealth, focuses on cleaning up spaces and encouraging the population to embrace these practices while rejecting the uncontrolled dumping of waste.

The third program, Business Development, is all about green entrepreneurship. A transition to a greener economy starts with initiatives that focus on providing sustainable products and services as well as greener production processes. Upcycling is the perfect way to start this transition, as it transforms a huge pollution problem into a source of job creation.

One of the most successful projects Upcycle Africa has undertaken is the building of houses with plastic bottles in Uganda. Uganda’s rapid population growth makes it difficult to ensure decent housing for everyone. Through this initiative, Upcycle Africa has managed to educate communities about the importance of protecting the environment while also creating something useful. The constructed houses are affordable and highly resistant to earthquakes. In 2021, Upcycle Africa also announced their partnership with Engineered Waste to Energy Solutions for the World (E.S.E.S), an organization committed to generating energy from waste.

Through these initiatives, Upcycle Africa is one step closer to transforming waste collection into an economically beneficial practice in LDCs.

– Carla Tomas
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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