ABUJA, NIGERIA - Nigeria generates an estimated 32 million tons of solid waste per year, one of the highest amounts in Africa. Of that figure, plastic constitutes 2.5 million tons.
Every day in a junk yard provides an opportunity to make ends meet for 30-year-old Awodu Suleiman.
He has been here every day for six years, scouring heaps of waste for recyclables.
When he’s done gathering and sorting plastic or aluminum, Suleiman sells what he has found to recyclers for processing.
He says the work is money for him and that is why he does it with passion. Thanks to this job, Suleiman says, he was able to marry his wife. He says the money sustains them and that life has been easy with him.
Local recyclers, including 55-year-old Mahmud Ahmed, buys plastic and aluminum waste at a low price, then converts it into reusable products, especially pots, local burners and cookware before they are sold.
Ahmed said he has recycled aluminum for more than 25 years.
“I started this work in Lagos before I came to this place,” he said. “From what I get from the sales of my pots, I’m able to pay school fees for my seven children,” he added.
The venture is nothing more than a means of daily survival for the recyclers, but experts say local recycling has more significance.
Millions of tons of trash
Nigeria is one of the biggest contributors of solid waste in Africa with an estimated 32 million tons each year.
Environmental engineer Maryann Atseyinku, the founder of Community Waste and Recycling, says that while small in scale, local recyclers are making an impact exchanging trash for cash.
“Almost any country in the world has problems with waste management, so Nigeria is not a particularly peculiar case. The thing is the fundamental problem we have is because of the logistics that’s in the same. Waste management is pretty expensive.”
In 2009, the government awarded contracts for the procurement and installation of recyclers in 26 Nigerian cities, including the capital, but little of what they recycle is plastic.
Solid waste management is the most pressing environmental challenge facing urban and rural areas.
Nigeria’s population is estimated to double by 2050 and that could mean more solid waste hanging around and more plastic for recycling.