Friday, February 5, 2016 10:40 am
Ms. Olufunto Boroffice is the founder and CEO of Chanja Datti Ltd, a recycling social enterprise engaged in transforming waste to value through recycling and also empowering unemployed women and youth. In this interview with Ayorinde Oluokun, she spoke about activities of her company, the business and employment opportunities inherent in the waste recycling business, the dangers of the present waste disposal method in Nigeria and the need for government to ensure that manufacturers takes responsibility for wastes generated from their activities.
A: What is Chanja Datti about?
Q: We started last April/May last year and we have had good very success. We are not as fast as we want, but we are making a good progress. We are building a small plant for collection at Jahi District, in Abuja. We have partnered with Abuja Environmental Protection Board, so we are licensed domestic waste collector. We are working with NESRA and right now, we are collecting recyclables from places like Yar’Adua Centre, some of the bottling companies, we recently just partnered with Transcorp Hilton to collect all their plastic wastes, we are collecting wastes from the Swiss Embassies, from all the GIC offices in Abuja and we are looking to go national.
So, we are talking with companies like Coca Cola, Association of Table Water Producers and others we can work with. Now we collect anything that is recyclable- papers, glass, plastic, cans, e-waste, we are even collecting old phones if you have it. But one of the reasons we wanted to concentrate on plastic is that we found out that it is more than 50 per cent of the wastes generated. And unlike the organic or food wastes, it takes about 400 years for a plastic to disintegrate, so if it’s on a landfill, it is there for almost 400 years. So, all these flooding that are going on is because water is not flowing as it should flow because of blockages by plastics and nylon. People are getting malaria because mosquitoes breed in stagnated waters and so on.
So, when we said we wanted to tackle this problem, it was not just because of the environment, but there are health aspects to it as well. And people are screaming that there are no jobs, but there are a lot of jobs that can be created from the values chain of waste management – the people who will sort the waste, those who will clean the waste, and those who will now turn the waste into something else and so on.
Q: How is Chanja Datti going to do this?
A: One of the things that Chanja Datti wants to do is to be involved in creating entrepreneurs out of this waste chain. And we are passionate about women and unemployed youths. We wanted to help women who, maybe for some reasons are in situations where they never thought they would find themselves. And you know if you train, feed or give a woman the means to feed herself, she feeds herself and also helps her husband out. So, we are passionate about creating entrepreneurs out of women who will go and collect some of these wastes. What will happen is that maybe a woman will start today and go and start collecting nylon bags, plastic, cardboards and she will start making some money and then her sister can ask her about it and then maybe she can employ her and say, okay, you too, go and collect for me, and she will become the CEO of her own collection company.
That is the model we want in terms of our entrepreneurship scheme. In terms of incentives, we have what we called credits- depending on what you bring to us, you can exchange it for money- anything from a TV set to credits for your phone is the spectrum. Or if you want cash, we can give you some cash, it is not a lot of cash, but a token, just as appreciation for all your efforts. So, those are some of the things we are working on right now and we have had relatively good success for the amount of time that we have been in existence. But we need to do more. We need support from the government, individuals, corporations who will buy into what we are doing. People and even some of our lawmakers are always saying Abuja is so dirty and by the time you look around, you realized that in Nigeria generally and in Abuja in particular, we use combustion method to dispose off our wastes which is not the right thing to do. And until we begin to make people realize that there is money to be made from waste management, people will forever continue to say that is not a good sector to go into.
Q: Will you also be collecting wastes from homes?
A: We are trying to set up a pilot in an estate in the outskirt of Abuja. Right now, we are not doing that, but we want to do that- we work with estates, homes, as an individual, you can register with us and we will give you like a small card and we will be recording whatever you are bringing and when you reach a certain point, you can say I want to redeem, like I said for household goods. You can even get free computers, depending on the exchange for the incentives.
Q: Do you have collection centres now?
A: We only have one collection centre which was the point where we are building in Jahi. Right now, if you have up to 500 bottles or a thousand, we will come and pick it from you. We want to reach out to our government and policy officials – like the FCT Minister and the senator in charge of FCT to see to the creation of collection centres across FCT and see if we can manage that. Also, if we can put bailers and shredders there, we can ask people to go there, bring their recyclables and actually sort.
Q: What about the option of collecting from some of the boys who collects at the dump sites?
A: The problem with that is that a lot of the materials are no longer pure by the time you have mixed them with other things. So, we are trying to do operation sort at source- people sort in their homes and they shouldn’t mix it together. Number two, the people that are sorting at these dumpsites are exposed to the elements. They are not properly kitted to go into that place. A lot of them get sick because there also all sorts of wastes at the dump sites- medical wastes with injections, syringes from a person that have HIV and so on and they are breathing in all these things.
They are not putting on masks. Nobody has done an analysis to find out how long those people live to find out what they are dealing with. Honestly, if you go to developed countries, nobody is scavenging from the dumpsites. I know there is conversation with NESRA to even ban people from scavenging because they are exposed to elements and they are losing their lives and nobody is even talking about it. There is also a correlation between the purity of what you recycle and the value you can get from it. One of the reasons why companies like Coke and 7up cannot recycle these plastic bottles is because it is not pure. If it is pure, it is easier to use and reuse than when it has been used for pepper or when somebody has put kerosene into it or it has been dropped inside a dustbin. SON will not even allow it. There is a standard in place that will not even allow people to go and pick something from a dumpsite, but if I am collecting it from the household and it is pure, then I can make a case for we can reuse it.
Q:So, what are the finished materials we can expect to get from the recycled wastes?
A:Ultimately, we want to turn them into flakes and then sell them off to manufacturers who will use them for making for ropes and so on. The other thing we are trying to do is to get investors to come to Nigeria. Do you know that eight PET bottles make one jersey? They are making clothes from PET bottles now because they can turn them into fibre that can be turned into T-shirts and we are talking about no jobs in Nigeria. Nigerians like Coke, they like Fanta and our population is so large and by the year 2050, it is projected that our population will be about 450 million, so you can imagine the amount of packaged foods we takes in. Can you imagine the amount of wastes we will be generating once we reached that threshold in our population? We started May 2015 and we will continue to collect.
We are looking for partners who will say come and collect. Why can’t we have PET to fibre company in Nigeria so that as we are collecting, it goes to them, they turn it into fibre? There are some Chinese and Lebanese companies collecting all these bottles and shipping them out of Nigeria. We are losing income, we are losing foreign exchange, and we are losing jobs that can come out of this. We can turn these things into crates, cartons for eggs, carpets, there are so many things. You can turn old chairs into buckets, dustbins and so on. For people who go around and throw dirt around, there have to be sanctions as well. I know that this may not be popular, but I miss those days of War Against Indiscipline because you know that you can’t even throw stuffs on the floor.
You go to some communities and all you need is one “bola” boy to just dump dirt at the side of the road and before you know it, that place becomes a dumpsite. You can turn plastics into like timbers for something like posts. Do you know that like in India, they are adding plastic to bitumen to make roads? And those roads last longer because plastic expands. Those are some of the things that are out there and in Nigeria we need to do research to take advantage of these things. In Nigeria, can we start with a road that has potholes and say, let’s mix plastic with bitumen and see how it will do. We need to put the right mechanism in place now to be able to deal with all the wastes. And that is what we are about. Last year September, they talked about Sustainable Development Goals, 17 new goals; one of them is eradication of poverty. Another one was making use of sustainable goods. Recycling waste management companies are at the heart of what this all is about.
World leaders went to Paris and they signed this COP and it is all about waste management. You will not believe that environmental related diseases are a leading cause of death in the world. Over 100 million people died from environmental related diseases annually – more than the number of people that died from HIV and malaria. There are chemicals in all these bottles and the fumes that come out when you burn them that people are breathing in everyday. We just don’t pay attention.
Q: At what stage are you now in the building of the plant?
A: We are trying to collect, now we have collected almost four tones of recyclables, we have a place where we keep them for now. We have roofed our plant, we are putting on all our accessories. So, we are hoping that by the end of January, we will be up and running. And also, another thing we are doing is that if we are going to bring the machines from China, it will cost a lot of money, so we wanted it to be for us by us. So, we are working with students from Federal University of Technology, Akure to build these recycling plants for us and so far, it is done. We just want the site to be done so that we can bring the machine. It will shred plastics, it will shred cans. It will make it smaller, into small flakes.
Those are the kind of things we are trying to encourage. I always tell people that the answer for the liberation of this country is not going to come from China or US, it is going to come from us and that is why I am saying for us by us. We need to take responsibility for ourselves. There are many youths outside there who have gone to schools, who don’t have jobs and if they can start manufacturing this small machines that people can buy from them, then we are building the nation together. Another initiative we are starting is what we called Bottle for Books, especially girls. We are passionate about girl children- we have seen cases where the girl child will be put out of school for the boy child if the parents cannot afford to send both of them to school.
And we are saying that there are some girl children that are smart and we want to give them the opportunity to go to school, so if you have reached the stage maybe you want to go to the university, and you don’t have money for forms- if you collect like 5000 bottles, we will give you money for JAMB or GCE or WAEC forms. And we are looking for companies to partner with us in this. It helps the children and it also helps the environment. By the time you go to one or two event centre every Saturday, you have collected 5000 bottles. That is our way of giving back. We are also working with some IDPs camps.
There is an IDP camp in Kuchingoro where we went to do like an entrepreneurship programme with the women there, to say that you don’t have to have an education to collect recyclables- plastics, newspapers, cans etc, we will look for people who will buy it off you, we help you, we help the environment. There are people who are willing to do the hard work and eke out a living. You might not do it forever. You can just do it to collect the money that will allow you to go and do the business you want to do.
Q: Are you also including the most ubiquitous one, the pure water sachet among the wastes you are collecting?
A: Yes, people can be collecting, but what we are telling people is that it has to be clean and they have to bring it in bulk.
Q:In what ways can government help this kind of initiative to succeed?
A: One of the policies that have been promulgated since 2009 is something called the Extended Producers Responsibility Act, EPR and it is being pushed by the Ministry of Environment. Nothing really has come out of it. Basically, they want producers to be responsible for the waste they are generating. For example, if you are in the food and beverages sector, then you need to put money into a fund to be able to mop up all the wastes that come from your production activities. There are two organizations that have been created and they are the ones that are supposed to be collecting the funds. But to even get producers to put money into this fund has been a problem. Government need to light the fire and say going forward, this need to be in effect.
Government also has to encourage households to separate their wastes which means encouraging each household to get maybe two bins- one for organic and one for recyclables- plastic, nylons bags. Do you know if you go to the market and you want to buy toothpick, the regular person selling will give you a nylon bag to put it inside. We need to discourage those things; we have to encourage the use of recyclable bags. In Abuja for Chanja Datti and other companies, we need the help of government to have a place where wastes will be dumped. It is not just opening up a place and saying this is our dumpsite, there have to be a recycling plant there, where wastes will be properly managed.
They have to encourage the management of waste collection, maybe on Monday, the person collecting tomatoes, onions and other organic waste will go and collect; on Thursday, the person collecting nylons, plastics, cardboards will go collect – so you have an organic collector, a recycling collector. We are saying maybe government doesn’t have money and that’s why the EPR should be encouraged- the people that generate these things should be responsible for the cleanup. And the money they are putting into these funds can then be used to incentivize the consumers. And NESRA has already done the legwork- the producers, manufacturers; importers distributors are the ones who are going to put money into the funds. And then, they have two organizations right now that will disburse the funds to the collectors and recyclers like us who will then pass that on to the receivers and the informal collectors.
One of the organizations is Nigeria Beverage Alliance. But for small companies like us, we just want to use social, print media to get the word out there to say government, please, enforce things like this, so that we can start the work. It won’t cost the government any money- the money will come from the manufacturers, the brand owners and others who are doing things like this because if you create something like this and you are making profit, you should also be responsible for the cleanup. And it is not just food and beverages it also includes tyres, e-wastes, old phones, it is the whole spectrum of waste. Right now, the other issue is financing because this is a new sector that is just coming up.
So, getting financing –from setting up to even getting your machinery is even difficult, not to talk of when our plants are not going as quickly as we want and we have to put in personal funds. So, if government can make investors in this sector to have something like pioneer status, it will be good. If government can attract investors from outside the country who already have the technical know- how and they can create conducive environment for them to come, that will be fine. Government has already put some of the regulations in place. What we need now is enforcement and that will determine whether the sector will be viable or not.
Q: In what ways are you partnering with other businesses?
A: Another programme we are starting this year is green business and for businesses and hotels which are green conscious, we want to partner with them and say this is a green business. For example, for Hilton now, we are going to be collecting all their plastics – they are green business because they are doing things that will help the environment. So, we are looking for other companies- hotels or eateries- if they could work with us and instead of throwing away all those plastics or cans and all the nylons bags and empty kegs of oil, the cardboards, if they can give it to us and the printing companies that are springing up everyday- ministries and companies- if they have papers, we would take it off them. We are partnering with them so that we can help the environment.
Again, at the IDP Camps, we want to help the people, we want them to work at the plant when it is ready as people sorting the wastes- I talk about bottle for books, if the companies partners with us through the wastes that they give to us, money that we generate from that, we can give to people who need books. And we can even expand the programme to primary schools. We are looking for innovative ways we can not only help the environment, but help people, empower people and that is what Chanja Datti is all about. We are not only environmental advocates, we are also human advocates and that is what we are passionate about. Recently, we went to a primary school in Jahi and we built a playground for them, using old tyres, old recyclables, we did a session with the children, tutoring them how they can make toys and other things out of wastes. In December, we went to new Kuchingoro IDP Camp and we did something called a Christmas to Remember with the kids.
We actually built a Christmas tree out of old tyres. And we spent time there- the children had fun, we did different games with them. We want to catch them young because I know that if we catch them young, we can have these conversations with them and by the time they grew up, the children would have imbibed the philosophy. We did sack race with the children; we just had fun with them. We also have environmental programme with some of the schools, like we plan to go into some of the schools this year and talk to the children about the environment. One of the things that we have been able to do now is because we found out that there are some girl children who cannot afford to go to school, even though it is free. They couldn’t afford it maybe because of the cost of school uniform and the likes, we talked with one of the Foundations and they are willing to sponsor 10 children.
So, those are some of the things as we go to schools and we identify situations and we are able to connect issues that we see in communities with people that we know can help. That is why we are calling again on companies, hotels, eateries to partner with us- we are not fly by night, we want to do good for the community. Again, it is for us by us. We have to do this ourselves.
Q: Do you have plans to take your operations outside Abuja?
A: We want to focus on the North, but we want to partner with people and have branches across the nation. But for now, we are focusing on just the North. There are other companies doing great things in Lagos, Umuahia in terms of recycling and collection of recyclables and are making impact in their communities. The amount of waste we generate in Nigeria is so big that one recycler can’t do it all. Everybody needs to get involved. There is another company in Abuja which collects tyres and they are making interlocking tiles from tyres. We just find out recently that there are carcinogens – things that cause cancer in tyres, but people use them to roast ponmo and meat. So, we don’t know what we are eating.
More people are getting sick now with cancer and all sorts and we are not making the correlation between the diseases and a lot of these things we see in dumpsites. We have to be more responsible in how we get rid of our wastes and that can’t be what we are doing now. It is not responsible. So, we are saying there has to be an alternative and that alternative is not collecting bottles from waste bins and then, putting kunu and zobo in it. There are three Rs of sustainability- reduce, reuse and recycle and that is what I always encourage people to do. Reduce if you can- instead of eating five bowls of amala, eat just one. It means if you are leaving your house, switch off your light.
It means instead of when you are brushing your teeth, instead of leaving the tap open, close the tap. It means you can reuse the nylon bags from yesterday, instead of getting a new one. Reuse, if you can and recycle if you can. We are encouraging everyone to recycle. There are companies like ours that are coming up every day. Gone are the days when you will say you don’t know what to do with the waste. And we want the government to ensure that every pure water sachet company, every manufacturer of anything that generates waste put money into a fund and use that money to mop up the wastes. And so, for the pure water sachet producers, they need to be part of the people that will put money into the NESRA Fund to mop up the pure water sachet in the environment.