Scavengers, known in local parlance as baban bola, are despised by the authorities and often scorned by residents because of their activities—waste picking. They live on the fringes of the society but form a vital link in the waste recycling business.
Early this week, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) police command arrested 98 scavengers over suspicion of various crimes, as the FCT Administration (FCTA) banned them from operating in the territory as part of measures to contain rising insecurity.
According to Daily Trust, despite stereotyping and profiling the scavengers, the Coca-Cola Foundation has seen them as worthy partners in the multi-billion naira waste recycling business.
Through its Cycleplast Project, the beverages company is set to engage scavengers and give them identification cards so that they can go about their waste collection business unmolested
The project, which is a social impact initiative aimed at scaling up waste collection in Nigeria through the informal sector, will be implemented by the Nigeria Climate Innovation Centre (NCIC).
Speaking during the launch of the project on Tuesday, the director, Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability, Coca-Cola, Nigeria, Nwamaka Onyemelukwe, said plastic collection in the country was largely driven by the informal sector, which scavengers are part of.
She said that at least 5,000 scavengers would benefit from the project, which would last two years; and it would be pioneered in Kano, Adamawa, Kwara, Abia, Edo State and the FCT.
“The way these scavengers harvest these plastics is unhygienic, so we want to get them into cooperatives, formalise them and build capacity for them in terms of financial inclusion and provide them with safety nets that will help them be more deliberate, and also increase their earning capacity.
“We have discovered that most of them are not buoyant, so they just give it up for any amount. Sometimes they just want to get money to eat. That is why we want to get them into cooperatives so that there will be funding and they can buy more materials.
“Why it is important for us is that we produce beverages that are packaged in plastic materials and we don’t want them on the streets; we want our plastics back. We want those materials to be collected, then create a linkage to recycling companies so that when they are recycled, we can use them in our operations again,” she said.
Onyemelukwe said Coca-Cola had confidence in the capability of the NCIC to drive the project as it is committed to a sustainable environment.
“Through collaboration and partnership, we believe our efforts will go a long way in ensuring a more sustainable environment. We are, therefore, excited at the impact we hope to deliver across the country through the implementation of the Cycleplast Project,” she added.
On her part, Olufunto Borrifice, the managing director of Chanja Datti, a waste recycling company and the vice president of Recyclers Association of Nigeria, said the project would promote the circular economy and environmental sustainability.
She said, “I actually call the waste pickers unsung heroes of the waste collection process in Nigeria because they are the ones you see moving around from dustbin to dust and dumpsite to dumpsite to pick recycleable waste that has value. So they are the unsung heroes of this sector. They are exposed to vectors, animals and even people chasing them. So this project is bringing them into the fold and putting a structure around what they do.”
She said what would benefit the scavengers most was getting proper identification and getting an organised platform on which they can ply their trade.
But the chief executive officer of the NCIC, Mr Bankole Oloruntoba, said plastic pollution posed a huge environmental challenge to the country.
“According to a 2021 plastic pollution report published by the World Population Review, Nigeria was identified as the seventh largest country in the world generating plastic waste, amounting to 5.96 million tonnes annually, with about 70 per cent ending up in landfills and waterways,” Oloruntoba said.
He explained that the project would engage the public through innovative and disruptive behaviour change campaigns on consumption and disposal patterns of single use plastic bottles, with the aim of encouraging consumers to responsibly dispose their plastic waste to enhance and build an effective collection system.
He added, “The informal sector is responsible for about 70 per cent of the plastic collection rate of the country and needs to be supported to do more by digitising the sector and making it more inclusive and attractive for investments.
The president of Coca-Cola Foundation, Saadia Madsbjerg said, “We are glad that our support will go a long way to improve collection across Nigeria and effect behaviour change towards plastic disposal in particular and waste in general.
“Our commitment to Africa remains strong as we continue to support systems and initiatives that seek to build economic and environmental resilience across the continent, in partnership with like-minded stakeholders.”
The Nigeria Climate Innovation Centre was created in 2018 by the World Bank and the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Office of the Vice President, with the mandate to lead the growth of the Nigerian green economy in developing and deploying solutions to climate change challenges, with footprints in venture development, green investment opportunities and capacity building services to climate-smart entrepreneurs.