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In Nigeria, promoting waste recycling

Lagos (AFP) – The mounds of rubbish strewn along the roads and the vast dumpsites are a Nigerian horror.

In Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, collecting, sorting and recycling waste is desperately rare.

But there is also good news. Some entrepreneurs are working hard to tackle the mountain of waste, despite the many challenges.

Romco Metals began recycling aluminum at its factory outside Lagos in 2015, drawn by global demand for the light, strong and flexible metal.

Buoyed by its good results, it has built a second factory outside Ghana’s capital, Accra, and now plans to open at least three new factories across Africa and triple production by 2025.

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Aluminum is the second most widely used metal in the world after steel and widely used in construction, medicine and automobile manufacturing.

“Electric vehicles require lighter and more durable materials such as aluminum, and that’s where our materials end up,” said the company’s young founder, Raymond Onovwigun, 32.

Job creation

A UK registered company, Romco melts and recycles around 1,500 tonnes of scrap aluminum per month, out of a capacity of 3,000 tonnes.

It says it has created 450 direct jobs – 5,000 in total, in this labor-intensive sector – and plans to double that number within a year.

“Before … there was no work,” Bankole Gbenga, known as Chief Abore, told AFP during a recent visit to the Lagos factory.

Chief Abore says more than a hundred young people from his community alone now work for Romco in some capacity.

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“Some do carpentry, others are welders… some young people do security,” said the forty-year-old.

Among those who have benefited the most from Romco’s business are material suppliers like Mohammed Ashiru Madugu, who delivers several truckloads of scrap each week.

Madugu has a warehouse in northwest Katsina, where suppliers from across the state and even neighboring states bring scrap metal to him.

He loads the goods onto trucks and sends them – with escorts due to frequent ambushes by criminal gangs on the road – to Lagos, more than a thousand kilometers (600 miles) away.

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For a truck, it can be paid up to 26 million naira (around $60,000) although the price fluctuates.

Vast problem

Only a tiny fraction of waste is recycled in Nigeria, a country of some 210 million consumers.

The plastic, metal and glass that are routinely collected and processed in advanced economies are mostly thrown away.

Every year, Nigeria dumps 200,000 tonnes of plastic into the Atlantic, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization reported last year.

In Lagos alone, a city of more than 20 million people, less than 10% of recyclables are currently collected, Ibrahim Adejuwon Odumboni, chief executive of the State Management Agency, told AFP. from Lagos.

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In comparison, in the UK, more than 41% of waste collected by local authorities was recycled last year, according to UK statistics.

For Odumboni, recycling initiatives are to be welcomed, but companies that make aluminum cans and other products should do more.

“We need manufacturers to invest in the collection system. In many parts of the world, some of what producers sell is for product recovery. We currently don’t have that in Nigeria,” said- he declared.

If companies selling aluminum products “are not held accountable (for waste collection), it doesn’t make sense – we’re going in circles.”

He blames bad legislation but says an improved Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law is currently being discussed in the state House of Assembly.

EPR is an environmental policy in place in many countries that encourages producers to take responsibility for their products after use.

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Another challenge for recyclers is the carbon emissions from the energy they use to crush, shred or melt old materials.

Romco, for example, uses compressed natural gas to process aluminum into ingots.

“(It’s) still a fossil fuel, but the best and most efficient fossil fuel. It doesn’t contain lead or sulphur,” Onovwigun said.

The company, however, says it wants to be independent of fossil fuels and is “exploring the potential of using solar energy, green hydrogen and biofuels”.