Dow tackles plastic waste in Nigeria through local partnerships

July 21, 2020
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New York Stock Exchange, DOW, has announced Project ReflexNG, a pilot project aiming to collect and recycle plastic waste in Lagos, Nigeria.

This project is aligned to Dow’s global STOP THE WASTE sustainability target which will enable the collection, reuse or recycling of one million metric tons of plastic globally by 2030.

The project in partnership with Omnik, RecylePoints and the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre will specifically recycle water sachets through a pilot program, designed to show that they can be collected and recycled to be utilized in new, quality packaging applications. The project aims to divert 600 MT of sachet water pouches (approximately 300 million sachets) which otherwise would have ended up in the environment or landfill, into recycling applications, while promoting education to engrain sustainability into a select group of small and medium waste entrepreneurs. The pilot is set up to enable a viable business case for the use of recyclate (resins made from recycled plastics) in non-food primary packaging applications.

An estimated 19 percent of the Nigerian population still does not have access to clean, safe drinking water. Though access to clean water has improved significantly over the last decade, it is crucial that everyone has access to it. For many years, water sachets have provided an affordable and readily available source of drinking water for the masses, particularly in heavily populated urban environments like Lagos. These pouches have become a fundamental part of life for millions of Nigerians every day. However, their widespread consumption has led to the unintended consequence of environmental pollution due to inadequate waste management infrastructure and poor waste disposal behavior. As in many developing countries, there is an informal waste collection economy, but this favors rigid plastic in Nigeria and disregards low weight water sachets, because waste pickers are paid by weight.

The water sachets will be collected by RecyclePoints, a waste management company, which uses kiosks, a phone app and employs waste pickers in order to collect waste that can be recycled. The kiosks act as a bring-back focal point for the community to return waste in exchange for groceries, mobile phone credits, cash and other useful items. The app can coordinate pick-ups from several points around the city. The collection part of the project is being funded by Dow’s Impact Fund and will expand to include additional collection partners in a later phase.

Once the waste is collected, it will be taken to Omnik, where it will be processed into PCR (post-consumer recyclate). Currently the first few batches have been collected and sent to Dow’s Pack Studios in Tarragona, Spain, where they will be analyzed and tested. Based on this assessment, Dow and Omnik will collaborate to enhance the properties of the recyclates so they can adequately be used again. Additionally, as part of this project, Omnik has funded a stationary buy-back center, operated by RecyclePoints, at premises of Lagos State Ministry of Environment to create long-term infrastructure for recovering plastic waste.

The project aims to create an end-use for the waste stream of water sachets, while employing over 200 registered waste pickers through RecyclePoints, for this new waste stream. The pilot will potentially increase the income of 8,000 RecyclePoints app subscribers.

Lagos Business School’s Sustainability Centre (LBS sustainability Centre) will act as an educational partner to enable small and medium waste enterprises to learn sustainability principles to enhance their businesses. Currently LBS sustainability Centre runs a Circular Economy series and are partnering with Dow to train a selected group of 40 social entrepreneurs who currently have businesses in the waste management space. The goal is to ensure that the education and materials these entrepreneurs receive through the process will result in long term sustainable collection for flexible packaging, specifically water sachets.

“Currently, more than 90 percent of waste generated in Africa is disposed at uncontrolled dumpsites and landfills. Through our partnerships with Nigerian enterprises, academic institutions and local industry associations, we are making significant strides in addressing the crises of plastic waste and proving that the material does have intrinsic value,” said Adwoa Coleman, Dow’s Africa Sustainability and Advocacy Manager for Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “Together with our industry partners and in alignment with Nigeria’s vision for plastic waste management, we are creating new opportunities for local business entrepreneurs and their surrounding communities.”

“Plastic is a man-made solution to a pre-existing problem. Rather than turning it into the problem, we should continue to find sustainable environmentally friendly ways to ensure it continues to serve its purpose as the most affordable and hygienic form of packaging,” said Alkesh Thavrani, Managing Director, Omnik Ltd.

Mazi Ukonu of RecyclePoints adds, “Circular Economy can only thrive if players at the different stages of the waste recovery value chain run viable activities, especially the waste pickers who are the unsung heroes of waste recycling in frontier markets like ours.”

By collaborating with individuals and organizations that are already supporting waste management infrastructure and recycling, Project ReflexNG is driving local, sustainable solutions for Nigeria. Beyond the pilot phase which runs to February 2021, Dow will scale up Project ReflexNG to recover even more quantities of flexible packaging with potential for replication across the region.

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