BY EBELE ORAKPO
You see it everywhere – road sides, gutters, water bodies, dumpsites, etc., littering the environment and creating an eyesore that interferes with enjoyment of the natural environment. Waste polythene (plastic) bags popularly called nylon bags, are easily the commonest and cheapest packaging material the world over, especially in Nigeria.
Realising the negative effects of this waste on human and animal health, water and land, the Office of Sustainability of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) has turned the waste manager’s nightmare into a money-spinner.
Professor Charles Reith, Interim Provost & Director of Sustainability Initiatives and Mrs Jennifer Che, Coordinator of Sustainable Programs, Office of Sustainability, spoke to Financial Vanguard on AUN’s Yola EcoSentials (an AUN-incubated enterprise), diesel from waste vegetable oil, engineered landfill, and eco-briquettes.
“In this unit, when we see waste, we think of three things – reducing, reusing or recycling the waste. We work very hard here to ensure that we reduce our waste. For instance, we work hard to see we drastically reduce the quantity of paper we use so we do most of our work electronically. The academic staff are thinking of using electronic marking system.
We use plates instead of styrofoam and we have replaced pure water sachets with dispensers and students are provided with water bottles for water.” These were the words of Mr. Matthew of the Sustainability unit.
As a development university, AUN sought ways to create wealth from waste and preserve the environment in the process as research has shown that when burned, these nylons create toxic smoke.
Yola EcoSentials, according to Mrs Jennifer Che, is a venture created to recycle discarded materials into valuable art goods such as purses, mats, handbags and wristlets. She said the art goods are made from “plarn, a yarn spun from recycled plastic grocery bags.”
She added that every item sold by Yola EcoSentials protects the environment and puts money into the pockets of the needy artists.”
A briquette is a small brick made of compressed coal dust, sawdust, charcoal, paper etc., used for fuel. Speaking on the eco-briquettes made from waste paper, Professor Charles Reith said the university’s waste papers are made into briquettes which are dried in the sun to make paper fuel. The briquettes are used to replace wood. This has helped in reducing desertification partly caused by felling of trees for firewood. Eco-briquettes are known to generate higher energy and less pollution.
Biodiesel from waste vegetable oil:
Instead of dumping waste vegetable oil into a ditch and polluting the environment, the Sustainability Unit uses the oil to produce diesel, a much product that is in high demand. “We use waste vegetable oil from the cafeteria to produce diesel. We put the oil in the vegetable oil bin, run it through the pilot plant and introduce a little bit of lye and methanol and at the bottom comes diesel that we can use,” explained Reith.
He said the pilot plant will be used for the oil they will get from their jatropha project. The university has involved local farmers to grow jatropha. “The money will go to the farmers, not to the refineries and drillers; it will recycle right here in Adamawa State and we will not only create jobs, but will start having the revenue to improve infrastructure so the state can become more economically viable,” he stated, adding that students are already involved in product development, financial planning and marketing for the products.
“We have a landfill so anything we cannot recycle, we put it in the ditch. It is what we call engineered landfill. It is an example of how you safely isolate waste from the environment. It is very risky burning waste or allowing water pass through it.
In the engineered landfill, those waste pathways which are sources of health risks, are contained so waste is safely disposed of,” said Reith, noting that “everything in the recycling centre is pretty much recycled.”