Saturday, November 27, 2021

From Linear To Circular Economy: Turning Waste To Wealth

Isaac Oluyi
Isaac Oluyi

There is cynicism in the land. Disillusionment and despondency seem to have replaced hope for many. For many, they cannot see light at the end of the nation’s dark tunnel. It’s all gloom and doom for them. They are simply pessimistic about everything Nigeria and Nigerian. Tell them Nigeria is a land that flows with milk and honey and they will simply shrug it off as the rant of a mad man.

To the discerning mind, however, there are endless opportunities in the land; opportunities that stem from diverse problems begging for solutions. Where there are problems there will be opportunities.

The immense opportunities untapped in Nigeria dawned on me a few weeks ago when I led a team of like minds to produce a documentary ‘From Linear to Circular Economy: Turning Waste to Wealth’ to be showcased in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, later in the year to attract stakeholders and investors in the science, technology and innovation community. The production of the documentary revealed how richly blessed Nigeria is. The challenges in the land notwithstanding, a lot is still happening in terms of innovation and creative ingenuity. While many keep running the nation down, blaming it on real and imaginary reasons, a group of ladies are making a remarkable difference turning waste into wealth.

The circular economy is a goldmine, not fully tapped. As it is, we are still scratching the surface. It is one area that can be explored and taken advantage of using both low-end and high-end technologies. It is an economy that our army of unemployed youths can explore. Interactions with current players within the space reveal that it is not too capital-intensive, as what is discarded is what is being transformed into value. Water hyacinth, discarded ‘pure’ water sachets, bamboo, among others, are some of the wastes these amazing Nigerians turn into valuable products. But what exactly is a ‘circular’ economy?

A ‘circular’ economy is an economic system that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution. Most linear economy businesses take a natural resource and turn it into a product that is ultimately destined to become waste because of the way it has been designed and made. The circular economy is a model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum. A close appraisal of the explanation of a circular economy point to how it cuts across all spheres of life as long as waste exists. This is indeed an interesting economic space that the nation needs to beam its searchlight on.

Let me highlight two, three people who are into the ‘circular’ economy in Nigeria. Let us start with Adejoke Lasisi who turns nylon and textile wastes to wealth. Adejoke Lasisi is a Nigerian fashion designer and environmentalist known for her development of fashion products and designs using nylon and textile wastes. She is the founder and CEO of Planet 3R and Jokelinks Weaving School.

Like Adejoke Lasisi, Achenyo Idachaba turns water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) – which was recognised as an invasive weed – to wealth. In collaboration with local craftspeople, she set up a range of products that were woven from the dried plants. She develops products such as wastebaskets and tables made from plants known for being invasive.

Another woman operating within this industry is Tony Joy, the founder of Durian Nigeria, a non-profit helping rural communities, especially women and children, turn waste into wealth and elevate their economic status. Durian Nigeria trains women and children in a rural community to make jewellery, furniture, cups, cutlery and school bags from bamboo. Also, she makes packages from waste clothes and water sachets.

I am sure there are many more who are doing exploits. This commendable exploit or initiative is a symbol of hope, a metaphor of possibilities. It is, indeed, an indication of how the fortunes of our country, Nigeria, can be turned around. The first step is to believe well enough in the country that we are blessed with abundant natural resources. Being blessed with natural resources is not enough, except we become innovative with them. It is the innovation that will give us the desired edge or the competitive advantage. To make this possible, interventions from the government become imperative. Government must not just provide an enabling environment, but a policy direction that will make ‘circular’ economy viable with many embracing it and the nation earning foreign exchange from it.

The National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM) – an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, which provides critical knowledge support in the area of science, technology and innovation management for sustainable development – has already set the ball rolling through the production of a documentary on Nigerians turning waste to wealth to give them global recognitions and attract investors to the country. Other stakeholders need to step up. No one will do it for us. For the cynics among us, the nation has what it takes to be great. All hands need to be on deck to revamp our economy by redirecting our efforts towards a non-oil economy. The current administration is trying in this direction, but Rome was not built in a day. It may take time, but we will surely get there if we replace pessimism with optimism.

If, despite the low-end technology available in Nigeria, the women highlighted in this piece are addressing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as clean environment, poverty reduction, gender mainstreaming, provision of decent jobs and living, among others, through recycling with high-end technology, a new economy that is completely ‘circular’ and capable of transforming the economy of Nigeria and other developing countries can be created. Waste may stink and effuse stench, but it has a lot of value. It’s time to repackage wastes for optimal value through digitisation. It’s time to turn waste into wealth. It’s time to embrace the ‘circular’ economy and reduce waste to the minimum by maximising its potential for economic and humanitarian benefits.

Oluyi is a personal development advocate and head, public relations unit, National Centre for Technology Management, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He can be reached via isaacoluyi@gmail.com.

Isaac Oluyi
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