Millions of Nigerians without access to clean and safe drinking water – an estimated 19% of the population – rely on the use of water 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 behaviour, huge amounts of these plastic water pouches have now ended up in the environment.
And while, just as in many developing countries, there is an informal waste collection economy, this favours rigid plastic in Nigeria and disregards low weight water sachets, because waste pickers are paid by weight.
A new pilot project established by Dow called Project ReflexNG is now specifically targeting this waste source. 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 one million metric tons of plastic globally by 2030. The pilot is designed to enable a viable business case for the use of recyclate in non-food primary packaging applications.
The goal is 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.
Funded by Dow’s Impact Fund, 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 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.
“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 recyclate. Currently, the first few batches have been collected and sent to Dow’s Pack Studios in Tarragona, Spain, where they will be analysed and tested. Additionally, Omnik has funded a stationary buy-back centre, operated by RecyclePoints, at premises of Lagos State Ministry of Environment to create long-term infrastructure for recovering plastic waste.
“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,” explained Alkesh Thavrani, managing director at Omnik Ltd.
As an educational partner, Lagos Business School’s Sustainability Centre (LBS sustainability Centre) will teach a selected group of small and medium 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.”