LAGOS, Nigeria — With its 18 million people and booming growth, Lagos faces numerous challenges. One of them is waste management. Once tagged one of the dirtiest cities in Africa, Lagos is making big progress, thanks to a new initiative which recycles waste and turns it into a natural fertilizer.
Bustling, crowded and busy. Today is just another day at the Mile Twelve market in Lagos - one of the biggest markets in West Africa. Thousands of traders sell vegetables and fruit along cramped alleys.
Recently they have been joined by a new kind of vendor: waste traders. In an open space at one corner of the market, dozens of people are packing old and damaged organic products into big bags. In a few hours, the trucks from the Earthcare Company
will transport the bags to a recycling plant to make fertilizer. Lawal Lauwrence, who works at the market, says this endeavor was long needed.
"It helps us a lot to keep the market clean," said Lauwrence.
Each day, the city of Lagos alone generates 10,000 metric tons of waste - 60 percent of it organic. As the metropolis keeps growing, the local government was pressed to find a solution for dealing with mountains of waste. The Lagos Waste Management Agency, known as LAWMA, decided to turn waste into wealth, as Abimbola Jijoho-Ogun, explains.
“We have to look for alternative use for this waste," said Jijoho-Ogun. "In view of that, we now had to involve the government and private individuals in making sure that whatever is being collected is converted to resources. So in Lagos we say there is no waste. Every waste is converted to something that will bring money for an average individual or those that are interested - especially the investors. So we are empowering people and promoting cleaner Lagos initiatives.”
Earthcare, a company formed in 2009 by association between an American business, the Lagos government and private Nigerian investment, is one of the pioneers of the city’s recycling program.
Away from the crowds of Lagos is the company's compost plant. Program manager Japhet Irogbarachi, explains their recycling is not only a solution for disposing of waste, but it actually helps enrich the environment and the community.
“There are some areas, some soils, that have been degraded as a result of pollution. So it is only organic fertilizer that can remediate the soil - to add value and enable us to grow more food and ensure food security," said Irogbarachi. "And again, the food grown with organic fertilizer is at the premium, it's natural, free from any toxins. So you are having safe food which also adds value to our health.”
The process to turn organic waste into compost is quite simple. First, the waste is left to dry for 8 weeks in the adjoining field. Then it is sorted in machines, which separate non-organic material, such as plastic, from organic residue, which is processed into a dark-brown, fine-grained fertilizer. The bags of compost are then sold all around the country to farmers.
Saibu Sulemon is a farmer. He lives near the Earthcare plant and has been using the compost for several years replacing his use of chemical fertilizers. As he spreads the compost powder on his spinach shoots with bare hands, he explains he will never go back to using chemical ones.
“I use it freely," said Sulemon. "Because I can use it even without water - which is not the same case as with other chemical fertilizers. So now even though the crops are grown up, the leaves cannot get burned or scorched, unlike [with] the chemical ones. “
Each day, Earthcare and its 70 employees recycle 600 tons of organic waste into compost. With a capacity of 1,500 tons per day, the company now seeks to develop so it can meet the demand from the rest of the country.