34-year-old Ms. Ummi Baba quickly became the sole breadwinner of her family after her abusive marriage ended. Although she had a grinding machine used for commercial purposes, the proceeds from her small business were barely enough to feed her let alone put her two children through school.
One day, while going about her daily activities, Ms. Baba heard a radio advertisement of an organisation calling to train interested young people who wanted to be self-reliant. Being an uneducated woman who could not communicate in English, the mother of two was aware that she had limited options for making a living, hence her decision to register for the training.
“When I found out that the company is focused on cleaning the environment, I quickly registered for the free training because I was always bothered by the unclean state of my environment,” she told this reporter.
Following the improvement in her standard of living and environment, Baba readily shared her journey with eTrash2Cash.
What is eTrash2Cash?
eTrash2Cash is a social enterprise that uses technological innovation to address decades-old social and environmental issues in local northern Nigerian communities. The initiative does not only focus on saving the environment from pollution, but it also provides a platform for low-income earners, especially women to earn from their trash and save it to improve their living standards.
In 2016, etrash2cash was set up to create a zero-waste society that is healthy, educated, informed, and sustainable for everyone, and where all kinds of trash are seen as the true resources they are.
According to a 2021 United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) report, Nigeria creates about 32 million tonnes of solid waste annually, of which 2.5 million tonnes is plastic waste. It added that the country is among the top 20 countries that contribute 83% of the total volume of land-based plastic waste that ends up in the oceans.
The waste management organisation collects different kinds of plastic wastes such as PET bottles, PWS, and other rigid plastics – LD, HD, PP, and recycles them into bio-friendly reusable products at their material and recovery (MRF) facility in Kano State.
So far, eTrash2Cash says it has diverted over 10,000 metric tonnes of trash off the landfills through its 165 local trash collection kiosks across four States in Bauchi, Jigawa, Yobe, and Kano.
Providing Access to Social Incentives
One of eTrash2Cash’s priorities is to support the vulnerable; improving their lives through sustainable waste management, hence, the organisation targets women as its waste providers and provides incentives that help them access the basic needs of healthcare and education.
So far, eTrash2Cash claims it has paid over N50m in social incentives to thousands of women who make up the most beneficiaries of the organisation. Once a waste provider agrees to save her earnings from her trash, she is registered formally and her savings are then traded for health insurance plans or paid directly to her at the end of the month for her children’s school fees.
Shortly after Ms. Baba’s training, the mother of two educated other women in neighbouring houses on the need to keep their environment plastic-free and further provided them with three bags to sort their sachet water nylons, plastic bottles, and broken plastic containers. When the bags are filled up, she collects the trash and sells them to eTrash2Cash.
“I sell an average of 12kg in a day. Sachet water nylon costs N80 per kilo, plastic bottles are N100 per kilo, and broken plastic containers are N120 per kilo. The prices could even be higher depending on how broken the containers are,” she revealed.
Baba also agreed to save her earnings with eTrash2Cash in exchange for social incentives.
“I make an average of N7k from selling plastic waste to eTrash2Cash in a month. The N7k has changed my life so much. My family eats well, and my children attend school without lacking learning materials. I and my children were also enrolled in my state’s health insurance scheme,” she said.
eTrash2Cash also partners with stakeholders to do free training for women. In 2021, the organisation trained 200 women on plastic waste upcycling. Baba was one of the women who learnt how to independently upcycle plastic waste into reusable items.
“After my training, I started to weave bags and purses out of polythene nylons. I make an average of N4k from selling them in a month,” the mother of two excitedly shared, adding that she also gets paid to travel and train women from various communities about plastic waste management.
Other times, she trains them for free so that they can be self-reliant like her.
Through constant radio and one-on-one education, eTrash2Cash enlightens women in the north about climate change and its impact on their general well-being. These women are also trained to see their waste differently.
When one woman is trained, she goes ahead to train another who also does the same with others. And as they clean up their environment, they are motivated by social incentives to do better.
But There Are Limitations
The ‘E’ in eTras2Cash simply signifies that the initiative is a digital platform as it leverages technology in its waste management processes.
eTras2Cash carries out some of its core operations through emPower Technology, an end-to-end 3rd party platform for waste management companies that tracks plastic wastes from the point of collection, and reprocessing, to final recycling, and sales.
The technology helps eTras2Cash to trace and measure the quantity of plastic waste that is collected at the trash banks, the amount of cash that waste providers get in return, and the quantity of the waste at the end of the process.
Although emPower Technology is free to use, the downside is that it has access to eTrash2Cash’s data and owns some rights to it.
Little profit restricts expansion
As soon as eTrash2Cash collects and reprocesses a significant quantity of waste into raw materials, they sell them to manufacturers who recycle them into finished products. The revenue generated from the sale of the raw materials is injected back into the collection system and used to provide social incentives for waste providers.
Although the process is said to have sustained the initiative over the years, it has restricted the expansion of the organisation as the profit made from the raw materials is not big enough to buy more equipment. Hence, eTrash2Cash relies on external funding in expanding or buying the equipment as they have done in times past.
Introducing Chanja Datti
Chanja Datti is another waste collection recycling social enterprise in the northern part of Nigeria that is dedicated to the collection and transformation of environmental waste while creating a platform for unemployed women and youths to become micro-entrepreneurs.
The organisation was set up in 2015 to convert waste into commercially viable products. It collects waste plastic, aluminum cans, papers, tires, and glass bottles, and transforms them into flakes, which are then supplied to off-takers for use in the manufacture of various products. Since its inception, it has diverted over 5000 tonnes of recyclable waste from landfills in the Abuja metropolis and created over 200 green jobs.
Like eTrash2Cash, Chanja Datti also has an initiative through which it encourages people to subscribe to waste recycling to meet their basic needs. One such is the Bottles For Books initiative.
Murja Ibrahim, a widow and a groundnut seller whose income could not put her children through school, heard about the Bottle for Books initiative and involved her kids.
“They go with plastic bottles, pure water sachets, and cartons which we use as payment for the school fee. It’s been two years since they started this activity. I am happy because before now, they were not in school,” Ibrahim explained in a video.
Through this initiative, Nigerian students provide bottles of financial aids towards securing access to good education and building their capacity. Students that enroll in this initiative are expected to collect 5,000 PET bottles over three months for a stipend of N5,000.
The power of partnership/collaboration
Chanja Datti and eTrash2Cash are both tackling climate change through waste collection, recycling, and management while improving the lives of people, especially those at the bottom of the ladder. The latter is, however, leveraging the power of collaboration to influence government stakeholders to support and promote climate projects.
In November 2022, Chanja Datti made a symbolic statement with its first-ever climate action exercise at the National Assembly of Nigeria. The organisation installed recycling bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans at the National Assembly Complex which represents the heart of decision-making in the country.
The exercise is expected to contribute to driving the circular economy by supporting single-use plastic legislation which can drastically reduce plastic pollution in Nigeria. The project was made possible through the partnership between Chanja Datti and Climate Parliament in Nigeria, a global network of legislators working to inform and mobilise Members of Parliament and Congress to take action on the climate emergency.
Meanwhile, eTrash2Cash has, in the past two years, been engaging with the Bauchi government to revive the recycling facilities in the state but it has been futile. The organisation can take a cue from Chanja Datti by aligning itself with networks and associations that have the platforms and influence to get the attention of the government.
Although eTrash2Cash partners with international agencies, collaborating with local sister agencies will expand and strengthen the reach of its work.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
This story was first published on Social Voices.