Champions Of Rubbish: Wecyclers Lead Revolution For Waste Recycling In Lagos

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By FEMI SALAWU

 

 

At 65, Alhaja Kudirat Mobolaji Olufunmilayo embodies the aspirations of environmental protection in Lagos. Everyday, the Grand Mother does the unattractive  job of collecting biodegradable waste bottles from her neighbourhood. Although she is past her prime yet her personal drive and motivation is unmistakable and infectious.

Often times she would comb the entire surrounding frantically exposing herself to filthy urine smells from open gutters and street corners. At other times, neighbours now know better to discard their waste without separately reserving biodegradable stuff for Alhaja.

Her neatly packed garbage is collected into the compartment of a tricycle handled by an agent from Wecyclers Limited. At each doorstep, the heap is measured and the weight is recorded according to the co-founder of the initiative, Bilikis Adebiyi-Abiola. She added that subscribers like Alhaja would then get an SMS alert from Wecyclers notifying her of the points accrued to her garbage. This qualifies her for various prizes in the waste for reward model that the organization is operating.

Alhaja Kudirat is a proud beneficiary of a grinding machine while her grand daughter has enjoyed a third party scholarship grant.

It is now three years since this routine began and Alhaja as she is popularly called among her Joseph Lambo, Apapa neighbourhood is now a familiar face. Expectedly, she is not unfamiliar with snide remarks and curious stares from passersby.

“I was reported to my children in America. They were told that their mothr was doing the odd job of Ashale (Scavenger) but such things did not deterred me,” Alhaja Kudirat explained.

She explained further, “Honestly, I am well taken care of by my children because I only just returned from the US where I stayed for a while. Initially, it took time for them to understand why I was doing this this job. This is purely something I do from passion and genuine concern for our surrounding.”

A resounding applause greeted her powerful testimonial which easily emerged as one of the high points of a brief ceremony marking the Earth Day 2015 organized by a Lagos-based private recycling firm, Wecyclers Limited.

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Dressed in Iro and Buba lace material with a Gele Headtie, she would pass for a guest at an Owambe ceremony. Obvously, she was the oldest in a CCHub hall in Yaba, Lagos populated by young stakeholders in the crusade for environmental protection. Nonetheless, her message rang loud and illuminated the minds of every listener and speaker that followed next.

Apparently, her US sojourn was very enlightening leaving an indelible seed in her mind. The trip was her first initiation into a consciousness of environmental protection. She was already an active subscriber to the waste-for-reward scheme which is very popular among American communities.

Today, Alhaja represents one of the 35,000 Lagosians who have been reached by the Wecycler Limited. “85% of our subscribers are women with over 30% of them above the age of 50,” says Abiola Bilikis who is also a US-returnee.

Like Alhaja Kudirat, the co-founder of Wecyclers had also been prepared for her new task as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. The 32 year-old mother of two possess a first and second degree in Computers Science from the same institution.

So where is the connection between Computer Science and environmental protection? “I think it just came maybe from my background as a software person. I am trained to us software to solve problems and there so many similar patterns you can see. I don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about the environment. It is a responsibility that everyone of us must shoulder,” she explained.

With a population of over 18 million, LAWMA has said that the mega city generate up to 10,000 metric tons of waste every day. Although the effort of Wecyclers’ is like a tiny drop in the ocean yet it has continued to be recognized internationally with awards from MIT Alumni and Cartier Women’s Initiative Award.

Abiola-Bilikis has her eye on the big picture. “I would be very happy to reach 35,000 households in 2016 and build a model that engage environmentalist,” she said firmly with her eyes revealing a glint of enthusiasm.

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The progress made by Wecyclers Limited was well commended and noted by Mrs. Tolulope Adeyo who heads the recycling unit of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA). To underscore the importance of the 2015 Earth Day, the environmentalist admonished, “if we all refuse to give back to the earth, one day the earth will fight back.”

According to her, regulatory body for waste had instituted a buy back programme on all biodegradable waste. Adeyo added that LAWMA has been working hand-in-hand with Wecyclers and the operation has now expanded to two hubs in different parts of Lagos. She disclosed, “Within the present hubs, we want to maximize capacity and when this is done, we will provide two additional facilities.”

Also speaking, Chigozie Ejimogu, a Nigerian Bottling Company official noted the task to rid the environment of biodegradable waste is a big responsibility that cannot be left alone in the hands of organizations like Wecyclers and LAWMA. He reasoned, “We opened our doors when Wecyclers knocked three years ago. As Alhaja testified, we have supported the organization and I can assure them of further more. The relationship has been mutually beneficial and healthy.”

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