25 April 2014

Student founds WEEE social enterprise in Nigeria

By Tom Goulding

A student from the University of Northampton has made it his mission to tackle the growing problem of electrical waste in Nigeria by launching his own social enterprise.

University of Northampton undergraduate Ben Thomson, currently in his third year of a Business Entrepreneurship degree, along with partners George Richards and Chris Richardson founded social enterprise Green Cycle. The organisation is working to develop recycling solutions for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in the city of Lagos.

Mr Thomson, left, talks to OIPA president Olabode Medale about the problem of hazardous WEEE in Lagos

Mr Thomson, left, talks to OIPA president Olabode Medale about the problem of hazardous WEEE in Lagos

The enterprise is working in collaboration with the Orile Iganmu Progressive Association (OIPA) to change attitudes towards waste in Nigeria through education programmes and to carry out waste collection for households and businesses in Lagos. OIPA, which has trained over 1,500 young people in computing and literacy, is running public campaigns and educational workshops in Lagos to inform residents of the dangers of hazardous waste.

Green Cycle will aim to establish a processing facility locally that will seek to extract the valuable resources collected from any WEEE in Lagos.

Mr Thomson has also received support from the universitys Professor of waste Margaret Bates, a WEEE expert who was instrumental in setting up a WEEE recycling facility in Nigeria with Lincolnshire-based firm Reclaimed Appliances in 2009 (see letsrecycle.com story).

In recent years, Lagos has experienced an influx of WEEE, partly due to its growing appetite for second hand electronics.

While the city has allowed large amounts of exported material onto its shores, some of the loads have been deemed unusable. The influx in Lagos has led to increased burning of WEEE due to a lack of proper recycling facilities, which in turn leads to dangerous toxins entering the atmosphere and heavy metals such as mercury leaching into the soil and groundwater which accounts for 50% of the areas drinking water.

In response, Nigeria has banned imports of CRTs, while in the UK, authorities have poured significant resources into tackling illegal shipments of WEEE to Africa.

‘Changing attitudes towards waste in Nigeria is vital because some people dont understand what recycling is out there. There have been cases of people burning their waste in front of collection teams because they dont want them taking it away its shocking.’

– Ben Thomson, Green Cycle founder

But speaking to letsrecycle.com about his scheme, Mr Thomson said volumes of WEEE in Nigeria are now in the main generated domestically rather than through imports, due to the growing penetration rate of electronics in Nigerian households.

Explaining the background behind the scheme, Mr Thomson said: I saw this e-waste and thought what a great opportunity to do something with it. When I went out there last summer we were going round the communities having a look at the waste problem.

Changing attitudes towards waste in Nigeria is vital because some people dont understand what recycling is out there. There have been cases of people burning their waste in front of collection teams because they dont want them taking it away its shocking.

One of the main things we are doing at the moment is working with the community. We have the contracts to make things happen and Margaret is offering a great opinion on how things work out there.

Related Links

Green Cycle

He added: Pieces of the puzzle are coming together. At the moment my partner George is in Lagos attempting to secure licenses, and we are in the process of finding the finances and getting ready to pilot the collection scheme. We have a model we think is going to work, and we hope to have it up and running by 2015.


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