BY EBUN SESSOU, OLAYINKA AJAYI, ADERONKE ADEYERI & AUGUSTINA ANYAEGBU
Thirty-one year old Ade Ogunbowale, a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from one of the universities in the country shared his success story as a scavenger with Ebun Sessou in a 30-minute interactive session in Oko-Afa area of Isolo, Lagos State recently.
Ogunbowale could not secure a job after his B.Sc degree and joined the legion of unemployed graduates three years ago. According to him, he carved a niche for himself and became a scavenger at a dump site in Oko-Afa.
Narrating the success story of how he makes a living for himself and sponsors his siblings, he said, “I pick up plastic bottles that litter the streets along my way as well as metals to make a living. Although, most people see the job as dirty, I am feeding my family from it”.
According to him, “There are several people the trade helps.
“Waste recycling is a business that if you decide to go into it today, you are sure of making money. The fun of it is that you might even decide to start now with nothing and still make more money from the business,” Ogunbowale said.
He explained that, “most of the scavengers pick used materials at various dump sites and elsewhere. They look out for objects that include glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles and electronics.
“The materials are then taken to a collection centre where they are sorted, cleaned and reprocessed into materials bound for manufacturing”, he added.
His words: “Recycling of such materials would produce fresh supply of the same material. For example, used office paper can be converted into making a new office paper just as used polystyrene can be converted into making new polystyrene.
“But recycling of waste is just picking up in the country as a new business model and it surely offers lots of opportunity. For instance, one benefit of recycling is that it saves resources. Also, to recycle waste is to simply reduce pollution. By recycling plastic material we can reduce air pollution as well as water pollution”, he said.
An Environmentalist, Michael Simire explained that turning waste to wealth is a very viable area common in other countries. According to him, “waste needs to be managed effectively and it can also be a source of wealth if well handled. A lot of projects have been embarked upon by these countries and they are using waste to wealth programme as their programmes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC’s theme development mechanism programmes.
“The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Earth Summit. I also understand that Lagos State Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, has something similar that it is working on”.
He was hopeful that the country will soon join other developed countries in the area of turning waste to wealth. “I think, we will start from somewhere but I don’t think we have done so much in Nigeria. There is a project in Ikorodu whereby waste is turned to fertilizer by a particular company. The company seems to be doing something when it comes to recycling of waste,” Simire said.
He continued: “Our challenges could be how committed we are in handling such things. The question of sincerity should be put forward as regard such project. The technical know-how is another pressing issue to be addressed. We should also be determined to make this project work. Discarded materials can contribute to local revenue, job creation, business expansion and the local economic growth.
“Recycling business generates employment and adds value to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country that wants to create wealth for its citizens.
“Benefits of recycling include the following: prevents waste of potentially useful materials,reduces energy usage, reduces air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from land fill sites). Conserves natural resources, such as timber, water and minerals and prevents habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, and soil erosion associated with logging and mining.
“The collection of waste starts from the general waste stream through curbside collections by purpose-built waste collection vehicles which moves the waste to the LAWMA Waste Bank. The waste is then sorted appropriately, for instance, plastic bank to contain a wide range of plastic waste.
“Once the sorting is complete, the waste is moved into the recycling plant to be crushed and screened for substances that are unsuitable for processing. Once cleared of unsuitable substances, the waste is then transferred by conveyor to the initial treatment vessel.
“As the business of recycling soars in Nigeria with more research going into the available materials for recycling in the country, some individuals and organisations are trying as much as possible to encourage Nigerians to ensure that recyclable wastes do not end up on the floor, fields, drainages and canals through indiscriminate disposal but contribute in generating incomes and adding value to people’s lives. For example, organisations like Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) and Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) are collaborating to create awareness on waste recycling and its economic benefits”, he added.
I scavenge to feed my wife, six children
According to another scavenger, Abubakar Abdul, “ The reason why I delved into the business is because I don’t have a job. As a poor man, there was no help from anywhere. I started scavenging since I was a bachelor and from the little money I’m making, I feed my family. It is not good if I sit at home doing nothing and allow hunger to destroy my family. I’m appealing to government to help us improve our living condition. Hunger is striking so hard despite all my efforts. I’ve a wife and six children and it is only from this picking of waste products that we feed. Sometimes, we will not have food to eat just because there is no money.” he said.
Inspite of their resolve to make ends meet through this garbage business, the operators yet face societal stigmatisation amidst other unfriendly attitudes. Narrating his ordeal, Abdul said people sometimes look at them as insane.
Wale Olofin, 30 said: “I started this business when I was 15 years old and since then, I’ve not recorded any tangible gain from it other than to feed. I desperately need a wife but no woman has ever agreed to marry me because of the nature of my job. I impregnated a girl with the aim of marrying her but she ran away with the notion that she can’t marry a scavenger. She even said we are not different from pigs,”Olofin lamented.
Narrating some of the hazards of the job, Olofin said: “ On many occasions, I have been bitten by snakes, scorpions including ants; I have also sustained injuries on my legs at dumpsites caused by sharp objects but I do not relent because I have to feed to live.”
A visit to a dump site in Festac town reveals another hidden market where people earn a living from garbage business. When Saturday Vanguard visited the site, cars parked for sale could be mistaken as the only business going on in that vicinity, but walking straight behind these cars reveals another rendevous where scavengers meet with merchants that patronises them on a regular basis.
The stench oozing out from the refuse dumpsite opposite 202 Road at FESTAC town clearly explains that they deal in garbage. Scavengers were seen pushing their carts one after the other happily with noiseless haggle as money exchanged hands.
The initiative for buying iron scraps from scavengers all over dump sites and selling them to those who need them for recycling purposes spurred Ahmed Ojo into the business. The 45 year old auto mechanic said the need to make a living and fend for his family led him into the business since there is no job available.
He maintained that he earns more money than people think from the business. “I don’t see myself doing any other business than this. I am a trained auto-mechanic with over six years experience but I ventured into buying iron scraps at dump-sites by coincidence. My take home pay weekly is far better than that of many civil servants that look down on us.It’s a business I have been doing for over five years and I find it very lucrative raising my family and sending my children to good schools as well.”
According to another merchant, Madam Kehinde fondly called Iya Fatiah by the scavengers, she has been dealing with scavengers at dump-sites for over 20 years conveniently. She added, “It’s a profitable business that I earn a living from. I live comfortably in my own house, training my daughter up to the level of higher institution.
Although people perceive this business as dirty but I smile to the bank every time than most people that work in corporate organizations. I don’t see myself engaging in any other business than this,” she stated.
Scavengers in this area search refuse dump sites to pick waste materials and exchange them for money. They are kitted in boots and hold long hooks or sticks, searching for waste materials. Every day scavengers in Lagos wait for garbage trucks that go into the waste dumps to discard wastes. As soon as the trucks discard the waste, they search all, pick wastes and take them to sell. Bimbo Aderele (not real name), a student of Lagos State Polytechnic, is one of them.
She spends her holidays and mid-semester breaks at the Oko filling waste dump in Igando (Lagos), picking used bottles of soft drinks, water and canned containers. Bimbo doesn’t even care that she is being ridiculed by her mates who see what she does as dirty and menial for an undergraduate. She said that others scavenging with her were undergraduates from different institutions.
The dump site at Igando in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos cannot be easily ignored. The odour that oozes from the site would make anybody gasp for fresh breath, but certainly not the scavengers.
As early as 6:00am, the scavengers swarm around the trucks. They cannot wait for the trucks to off-load as they are all set to pounce on the contents to look for saleable items. A few others look out for electronics, used home utensils and clothes. Some of them go as far as wearing the used clothes to check if they would fit.
Bimbo said, “Many of us are not happy being here but we have no choice. I come here to help my mum because she pays my school fees and those of my younger ones from the proceeds of this business. I cannot imagine how we would have survived if not for this place. That is why anytime we are on break, I come here to work. The only thing is that we pay N100 daily before we start picking.”
She seems not to be alone in this situation, Martins is also a scavenger. He confessed, “I started picking used bottles here two years ago when there was no other place to go. I finished secondary school in 2011 but there was no money to further my education. Feeding became a problem too until someone introduced me to this business.
“I survive with the money I make from here which is about N30,000 in a month depending on the quantity of bottles I’m able to gather. What most of us do here is to pick used bottles of soft drinks, bottled water and the like, pack them in a sack and deliver them to those who buy them, crush and export. We pay the loaders, mostly the abokis.”
63-yr-old woman recounts ordeal
Indeed, the scavenging ‘business’ has no age barrier. An old woman in her 60s, Mrs. Lasisi, said it was hunger that led herinto the business when she couldn’t find any othermeans of livelihood.
“I am 63 but I don’t want to die of hunger, so I come here to work from morning till 11am before the boys take over. I am a widow and I have a young boy who lives with me; it is the money that I make from here that sustains us, and I pay his school fees. I pick the used bottles and sell them to those who buy them here for N20 per kilogramme. I don’t have another place to go and I must survive.”