On the 23rd of January 2021

Ambassador Obuesi Phillips, President SWEEP Foundation at the annual conference/inauguration of ACWEDON executive.


Recycling waste to wealth remains untapped economic resources across the world.

While most countries recognized the alignment of waste to a circular economy, countries like Nigeria still lags.

According to the world bank, Africa generates nearly 70 million tons of waste every year.

As the income and spending power of the average African continues to rise, more goods will be consumed leading to even more waste.

The volume of waste generated on our continent is expected to double in the coming years as Africa’s economy becomes more prosperous and the size and population of its cities explode.

Nigeria according to BioEnergy Consult, trends a population exceeding 200 million and the largest producers of solid waste in Africa.

Solid waste management in the country is assuming alarming proportions with each passing day.

Nigeria generates more than 32 million tons of solid waste annually, out of which only 20-30% is collected.

Across the world, Kuwait is the number one in the world at producing the most waste.

This country is generating 5.72 kilograms per capita per day of MSW (municipal solid waste).

The next in line is Antigua and Barbuda, then St. Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, and Sri Lanka as the fifth largest waste generator in the world.

They all have plans to lower their waste production but that is not the point.

With a population of 21 million in Lagos, the informal waste economy draws from two main waste sources – municipal waste and e-waste. An estimated 13,000 metric tons of municipal waste is generated every day.

Putting this in perspective, the notion of job creation as a solution to poverty reduction is nothing new.

But what if we could create jobs that are not only sustainable — providing quality jobs for low- and middle-skilled workers — but also help to sustain our planet?

What if those same jobs could also support members of our community who are often overlooked and cast aside? Can Recyclable Collectors Be A Catalyst for Solving Unemployment in Nigeria?

Let me paint rather a picture of great and thought-provoking concern.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2020 rose to a record-high 27.1% in the newly released figures by the National Bureau of Statistics.

That is, 21,764,614 Nigerians are presently unemployed.

This figure includes those that have experienced job loss, and those that have recently joined the labor force (recent graduates and former housewives/stay home husbands).

The increase from the third quarter of 2018 grew by 4% from 23.1%.

The underemployment rate also witnessed a jump to 28.6%.

This implies that 28% of the labor force works under 20 hours a week and is, advertently, underpaid.

Added together, both the unemployment and underemployment rate is capped at an astounding 55.7%.

The rising unemployment rate is not unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic that has impeded economic activities and the dwindling price of oil – the mainstay of the nation’s economy.

Before I put this puzzle together, permit me to share a couple of quotes that I considered relevant to this gathering.

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Of all aspects of social misery, nothing is so heartbreaking as unemployment” ~ Jane Addams

“Unemployment is bigger than a political party. It is a national danger and a national scandal” ~Ellen Wilkinson.

“A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun” ~Thomas Carlyle.

“An ‘unemployed’ existence is a worse negation of life than death itself” ~Jose Ortega y Gasset.

The five quotes have one thing in common that that is the dire need for unemployment solutions in Nigeria.

Yet, Lagos state alone produces 13,000 metric tons of waste daily of which 69% is recycling waste.

Think of how people can be employed, think of how crime can be reduced, think about how many people can gather for families, think of how many can contribute to the economic development of Lagos state.

Recyclable Waste Collectors can significantly play a role in the development and sustainability of our nation.

I stated earlier that Lagos alone generates 13,000 metric tons of waste of which 69% is recycling waste.

The concept of recycling is really simple. It is the process of reusing the waste that doesn’t have any other use in the process.

It changes the physical, biological, and physicochemical state of the waste.

Today, we have Scrap Metal. Scrap metal is now a material of great value.

Take aluminum for example.

This is the most recyclable material on the market today.

Nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today and it will get recycled again and again and again.

Aluminum can be recycled directly back into itself infinitely though maintaining the same quality as the primary material. Paper and Cardboard, you can also recycle the wastepaper to create new different raw materials.

It is a very valuable recyclable material but only when it is clean.

Every paper that you crunch, and it doesn’t spring back you can recycle.

You can also recycle cardboard products like boxes or tubes.

And this is a surprisingly good way to make money. It is a multimillion-dollar business.

Plastics, millions of plastic bottles are manufactured and sold every year.

A huge number of those bottles end up in landfills.

The process gives those materials other characteristics that will allow them to become some other raw material or product.

Why not make money out of this? You need to collect, sort them.

We have recyclable waste but need collectors who can make decent wages for recycling collection.

While the mountain of domestic waste in Lagos state particularly has continued to grow.

Lagos drainages and canals continue to be clogged with plastic and other domestic waste despite the good effort of PSP operators, Recyclers Association of Nigeria (RAN), and the Association Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWMAN) as well as the Lagos Waste Management Authority, (LAWMA).

Recyclable collectors or informal waste pickers are individuals who make their living by collecting recyclables from waste in the streets and dumpsites.

Generally, informal waste collectors are faced with societal backlash and discrimination.


The core of the challenges facing informal waste pickers:

  • It is believed that they are only interested in collecting waste for money and are not interested in the proper disposal of the waste collected.
  • Informal waste pickers allegedly collect waste from households to dispose them indiscriminately on dumpsites without adequate knowledge of proper waste management.
  • There is no legal backing for the activities of informal waste collectors in Nigeria.

Now, it is important to note that despite the arguments against informal waste pickers, it is well know that:

  1.  They have better reach
  2. They create employment
  3. They reduce available waste

What do you think?

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