By JOWIT SALUSEKI
UNCOLLECTED waste still remains a huge challenge in many developing regions of the world.
Testaments to this are the mound of waste material that continue piling up in all the townships in Zambia.
According to a World Bank series report, Africa currently produces just about 70 million tonnes of waste every year.
With its rapid urbanisation and growing economies, waste production in the continent will exceed 160 million tonnes by the year 2025.
Waste is a problem because it causes pollution, disease and environmental crisis when it is not properly disposed.
The good news is that most of the waste produced can be recycled and reused to create new products.
Sadly, only about 10 per cent of the waste generated every day is collected. The rest usually ends up in illegal dump sites, gutters and drainage in the cities.
However some people seem not to be aware that waste collection and recycling is a multi-million Kwacha industry.
In other countries, they are some successful stories of entrepreneurs both young and old who are creating jobs, building wealth and saving the natural environment.
From mountains of uncollected waste products made from plastic materials, entrepreneurs with business acumen are making huge sums of money.
In fact apart from being a money spinner waste recycling can also help solve the garbage collection problem in cities which has often resulted in perennial flooding which gives birth to water borne diseases.
However, local entrepreneurs can seize the opportunity to make money from waste recycling.
Zambia Environmental Management Authority Corporate Affairs Manager Ireen Chipili says as a regulator they are ready to grant licenses to individuals and firms that are interested in waste recycling as they want to ensure that sustainable waste management was promoted.
Ms Chipili said in terms of economic value, there was need to put up incentives like what was done on scrap metal and the Coca-Cola bottle company where people went round collecting used bottles and later sold them to earn a living.
She said the principle that the manufacturers of the Coca-Cola bottle did created a livelihood and that if other packaging manufacturing companies went about it, people would see less plastic and other packaging waste.
In Zambia some of the firms involved in recycling of waste include Manja Pamodzi, Adil investments, Xing Huo Limited, M Matrix and San Yvan.
These companies purchase the waste material from scavengers at an agreed fee which they later recycle.
Recyclers Association of Zambia Chairperson Harrison Musonda said his association currently has over 400 people whose livelihood is dependent on waste picking.
His vision is that financial lending institutions and the Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) should start offering soft loans to his members so that they can be able to venture into waste recycling like their counterparts in other countries.
Mr Musonda notes that waste collectors are willing to form cooperatives in order to tap into the economic benefits of waste materials.
While the business of recycling of waste is in its infancy in Zambia, the continent of Africa has top entrepreneurs who have mastered the science of making money from trash.
Nigeria’s most populous city of Lagos with over 16 million people produces up to 10,000 metric tonnes of waste.
Because much which remains uncollected waste leads to clogged waterways and unsightly heaps of trash that often line the streets entrepreneurs such as Bilikiss Abiola the co-founder of Wecyclers a for-profit social enterprise helps communities reclaim their neighborhoods from unmanaged waste.
Founded in 2012, Wecyclers uses low-cost cargo bicycles called wecycles to provide convenient recycling services to households in Lagos by using an SMS-based incentives system.
Bilikiss developed the business idea as an MBA student in the United States, after a five-year career as a corporate software engineer at the IBM Corporation.
She left her corporate job and decided to focus on the waste business.
The young entrepreneur sees huge potential in this sector, with Nigeria’s recycling plants hungry for recycled waste materials due to local and foreign demand for end products.
Her work with waste in Nigeria has attracted quite a lot of local and global attention. She has been featured on the United States based television station CNN and The Huffington Post among others.
Bilikiss is also a Fellow of the Echoing Green Foundation and a 2013 Laureate of the Cartier Women’s Initiative.
In South Africa Thato and Rea are just 21 and 22 years old respectively. They both founded Repurpose School bags as a green initiative to help hundreds of school children in their local community.
Their idea provides recycled and low-cost school bags with an interesting twist.
Their young business collects and recycles plastic waste into school bags for local disadvantaged students.
These upcycled plastic bags have a solar panel in the flap, which charges as the children walk to and back from school.
The bags also have strips of reflective material, an added safety design to make the children more visible to traffic in the early hours.
The charged solar panels are used to provide lighting at night. Students can use this light to do their homework and study instead of using candles. This helps students to do more school work and saves money which could have been spent on candles.
This simple but highly effective idea has attracted quite a lot of attention. Thato and Rea have been featured on several local and international media.
In 2014, they were the first runner-up at the Anzisha Prize, a pan-African award celebrating entrepreneurs aged 15-22 who have come up with innovative ways to solve problems in their communities.
In the east African nation of Uganda Andrew Mupuya was just 16 years old when he founded YELI, the country’s first paper bag production company.
He got the idea to start this business in 2008, when the Ugandan government put a ban on the use of plastic bags in order to reduce the environmental damage it was causing.
He was still in secondary school at the time and both of his parents had lost their jobs. He didn’t have any capital. To start the paper production business on a small scale, Andrew figured out he needed about 36,000 Ugandan shillings ($14). He raised $11 from selling 70 kilos of used plastic bottles and then borrowed the remaining $3 from his school teacher.
While gathering capital, Andrew visited local shops, kiosks and businesses to find out if there was any real demand for paper bags. The potential was, and still remains, huge. He also didn’t know how to make paper bags. So, he got on the internet and watched videos. That’s how he learned to make paper bags.
Today, the business has grown quite dramatically. Andrew’s paper bag company now employs over 20 people and produces more than 20,000 paper bags every week. All the bags are produced by hand as Andrew cannot yet afford a machine.
His long list of clients includes restaurants, retail stores, supermarkets, medical centers, as well as multinational companies like Samsung.
His company, YELI, has made about 1,000 niche bags for the local stores of the electronics company.
In 2012, Andrew won the $30,000 Anzisha Prize, a major award given to young African entrepreneurial leaders who take the initiative to address critical needs in their communities. He has also been featured on CNN, Forbes and How We Made It In Africa.
There is need for stakeholders to ensure that small entrepreneurs involved in recycling of waste are offered with incentives to grow their businesses.