After 13 years in the US; with university degrees, an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT, and work experience from Fortune 500 companies, one would expect Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola to continue in that line but she did the unexpected. She returned home to Nigeria to co-found a waste recycling company, Wecyclers, and her vision is enormous. To transform the lives of people with garbage, create jobs, and help build the economy of her beloved motherland, Nigeria.
This journey for Bilikiss started in a Development Ventures class she took at MIT which highlighted the problems facing people at the lowest cadre of the society and how these problems could be solved changed the course of action to collecting and recycling waste materials, linking her to the masses in the very last rung of the economic ladder. At Wecyclers, she is solving global environmental issues that are vital to the sustenance and quality of life of the continent’s inhabitants one state at a time.
World Bank Urban Development Series Report, places Africa currently produces just about 70 million tons of waste every year with a miserly 10% collected systematically. For a sector that generates revenue in the western world to the tune of billions of dollars, Bilikiss has been recognised as an innovator who seeks to solve a huge problem facing waste collection in Lagos state.
In 2012 she founded Wecyclers alongside her team members from the Development Ventures class at MIT. At the early start of Wecyclers, Bilikiss and her team were part of the 20 businesses from the Co Creation Incubation Hub who got funding from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, in her words “The Tony Elumelu Foundation grant came at a critical time for Wecyclers and provided us with the breathing room to continue to innovate and build our business. The grant went a long way to helping us build our company, and we are very grateful for it.”
At the heart of Wecyclers operation is a model that encourages members of local communities to recycle and get incentives for this. The wastes are collated and transported in locally made low cost – wecycles, operated by locals in the community and transferred to a collection point where they are in turn delivered to recycling plants to be processed into finished products. Talk about a whole chain of production and impact.
Wecyclers is currently operational only in Lagos where 13,000 metric tonnes of waste material are produced daily of which 30 – 40% constitutes well-sorted and high-quality recyclable waste materials which are supplied as raw materials to recycling companies like Alkem Nigeria Limited for use.
Even with these numbers, there is still a lot more work to be done to better the lot of our environment and the recycling industry as reports from Wecyclers show that one of the largest recycling plants in Lagos only operates at 40% of its capacity due to the inadequate supply of waste materials.
In a state teeming with waste landfills and dirt, the opportunities are endless if structured and tapped into. She says the government can begin by creating and implementing policies that will boost the sector starting with mandating recycling on renewable products.
Taking renewable wastes off the streets in putting them in sectors where they are needed to create useable products could turn out to employ over 500,000 youths, a figure that will make a lasting impact on the number of unemployed in the country.
Through Wecyclers, Bilikiss has not only created employment opportunities directly for 120 people and indirectly, but she is changing the way we handle waste in the country and providing raw materials for an industry operating in great deficit. She is also a pioneer in the Waste recycling industry with other players learning and imitating the model she has set.
In this model, families and households who sign up with Wecyclers receive redeemable points over their cell phones for every kilogram of waste they supply. With these redeemable points, they are rewarded with household items, airtime and sponsored prizes over a period.
In line with her vision to empower the communities where they operate, she has also an Independent Contractor Programme in partnership with FCMB to offer franchises of the business to empower applicants, improve input of wastes into the recycling programme while creating paid employment for participants and impacting society.
For Bilikiss, the fight does not end in Lagos. Wecyclers plans to take its recycling campaign all around the country and beyond. ‘’We will be the foremost recycling company in Nigeria and beyond’, she says.
Already over 15,000 households are registered under the scheme and over 1,000 metric tonnes of renewable wastes from landfills have been diverted into productive use.
The future is bright for Bilikiss as she trudges on charting a way in the Environmental sector, and this took a new turn in September when she was appointed by the Lagos State Governor, H.E. Akinwunmi Ambode to head the Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency(LASPARK) as General Manager with a mandate to transform the environment through a greener healthier environment. For Bilikiss, It’s a life of impact and the environment is her turf to play.