Millions of Nigerians without access to clean and safe drinking water, an estimated 19 percent of the population, rely on water packaged in flexible plastic sachets as an affordable and readily available water source. This is particularly the case in heavily populated urban environments like Lagos.
However, due to a combination of inadequate waste management infrastructure and poor waste disposal behavior, huge amounts of these plastic water pouches end up as trash in the environment.
While there is an informal waste collection economy in Nigeria, the system in place there favors rigid packaging, rather than sachet films because the pouches don't weigh much and waste pickers are paid by weight.
Now Dow Inc. is part of a pilot program called Project ReflexNG specifically targeting this waste. The project, launched in partnership with Omnik, RecylePoints and the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre, is aligned to Dow’s global "Stop The Waste" sustainability target which will enable the collection, reuse or recycling of 1 million metric tons of plastic globally by 2030. The pilot is designed to enable a viable business case for the use of recycled material in non-food primary packaging applications.
The goal is to divert 600 million tonnes of water pouches, or about 300 million of those sachets, which otherwise would have ended up in the environment or landfill, into recycling applications.
Funded by Midland, Mich.-based Dow’s Impact Fund, the pouches will be collected by RecyclePoints, a waste management company, which uses kiosks and a phone app and pays waste pickers 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 project aims to create an end-use for the waste stream of water sachets while also employing over more than 200 registered waste pickers through RecyclePoints, for this new waste stream.
“The 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,” said Mazi Ukonu of RecyclePoints.
Once collected, the waste will be taken to Omnik, where it will be processed into post-consumer recycled material. 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. Additionally, Omnik has funded a stationary buy-back center, operated by RecyclePoints, at Lagos State Ministry of Environment sites to create long-term infrastructure for recovering plastic waste.
“Rather than turning [packaging] 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,” Alkesh Thavrani, managing director at Omnik Ltd., said.
Lagos Business School’s Sustainability Centre will teach a selected group of small- and medium-size waste enterprises about the principles of sustainability, an approach which is hoped to 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,” Coleman added.