Money in the Trash: Scrap Metal at Romco’s Lagos Recycling Plant – Copyright AFP BEN STANSALL
Mountains of rubbish scattered along the roads and vast landfills are a thorn in the eye of Nigerians.
In Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, garbage collection, sorting and recycling is hopelessly rare.
But there is also good news. Some entrepreneurs do their best to cope with a mountain of garbage, despite many problems.
Romco Metals began processing aluminum at its plant outside Lagos in 2015, fueled by global demand for the lightweight, strong and flexible metal.
Encouraged by the good results, the company has built a second plant outside Ghana’s capital Accra and now plans to open at least three new plants in Africa and triple production by 2025.
Aluminum is the second most used metal in the world after steel and is widely used in construction, medicine and automotive.
“EVs require stronger, lighter materials like aluminum, and that’s where our materials end,” said the company’s young founder, 32-year-old Raymond Onovvigun.
– Job creation –
Romco, a UK registered company, melts and recycles about 1,500 tons of scrap aluminum per month at a capacity of 3,000 tons.
It says 450 direct jobs have been created – 5,000 in total in this labour-intensive sector – and plans to double that number within a year.
“Before…there was no work,” community leader Bankole Gbenga, known as Chief Abore, told AFP during a recent visit to a facility in Lagos.
Chief Abore says that more than a hundred young people from his community alone now work for Romco to some extent.
“Some are carpenters, some welders… some young people work in security,” said the 40-year-old.
Among those who benefited most from Romco’s business were material suppliers such as Mohammed Ashiru Madugu, who delivers several truckloads of scrap metal on a weekly basis.
Madugu has a warehouse in northwest Katsina, where suppliers from all over the state and even from neighboring states bring him defective metal.
He loads goods onto trucks and ships them to Lagos, more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away.
For one truck, he can get up to 26 million naira (about $60,000), although the price fluctuates.
The scrap metal supplier said these trips required an escort due to the risk of gang ambush on the road.
Romco later told AFP that none of its suppliers needed an escort and none of them were involved in attacks by criminals.
“We have not had a single case of anything like this,” the statement said.
– A huge problem –
Only a small part of the waste is recycled in Nigeria, a country of about 210 million consumers.
Plastic, metal and glass, which are usually collected and processed in advanced economies, are mostly thrown away.
Every year, Nigeria dumps 200,000 tons of plastic into the Atlantic Ocean, the UN Industrial Development Organization said last year.
Only Lagos, a city of more than 20 million people, currently collects less than 10% of recyclables, Ibrahim Adejuwon Odumboni, managing director of the Lagos Public Administration Agency, told AFP.
By comparison, according to UK statistics, more than 41% of waste collected by local authorities was recycled in the UK last year.
Recycling initiatives are commendable, Odumboni said, but companies that make aluminum beverage cans and other products need to do more.
“We need manufacturers to invest in a collection system. In many parts of the world, a portion of what manufacturers sell goes to refurbishing products. We currently don’t have that in Nigeria,” he said.
If companies trading in aluminum products “are not responsible (for waste collection), then there is no point in this – we are just going around in circles.”
He blames it on bad legislation, but says an improved Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law is currently being debated in the state House of Assembly.
EPR is an environmental policy in place in many countries that encourages manufacturers to take responsibility for their products after they have been used.
Another concern for recyclers is carbon emissions from the energy they use to crush, grind or melt old materials.
For example, Romco uses compressed natural gas to turn aluminum into ingots.
“(It) is still fossil fuel, but the best, most efficient fossil fuel. It does not contain lead or sulfur,” Onovvigun said.
However, the company says it wants to be independent of fossil fuels and is “exploring the potential for solar energy, green hydrogen and biofuels.”