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African Entrepreneurs in the Recycling Business

Waste management remains a major problem in the Africa and several other continents around the world. From careless littering of plastics, aluminium products, metal wastes, organic food wastes, nylon wastes, and more lying around over 90% of places people live and commute through daily to work, the saturation they’ve created results in negative effects both to the health of the local populace and the environmental care of the vicinities surrounding the droppings.

In the light of this lack of efficient waste management solutions, some African entrepreneurs identified business opportunities in the collection of these uncared for and unwanted wastes. They strove to collect as much waste products as possible, in a bid to keep their localities tidy and also to build a large business. While there are successes and failures in every industry, this article highlights 5 exceptional African entrepreneurs in the waste management business, who haven’t just done a great job in the recycling industry, but have built a successful business in the process.

  1. Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola – Wecyclers, Nigeria 

This budding Nigerian entrepreneur was an ex-IBM employee for 5 years. A graduate of Fisk University & Vanderbilt University.

After working with IBM as a software engineer, she proceeded to MIT’s Sloan School of Management to acquire an MBA. During this period, she had a project in her MBA class on recycling, and her team was named Wecyclers.

They explored the opportunities in the Nigerian recycling industry. Understanding that Lagos state alone in Nigeria produced up to 10,000 metric tonnes of waste every day and had a population of over 16 million people, she realized that the recycling industry in Nigeria was only waiting to be fully tapped by the most enthusiastic entrepreneur with the guts to take on the industry and build an empire out of it.

With a vision to harness the waste management industry to its full potential, she quit her job at IBM and returned to Nigeria to setup her recycling business.

Since the start of her business, she has garnered both local and global attention from the likes of CNN, The Huffington Post, and have secured strong partnerships with companies like Unilever, DHL, NBC, CC-Hub, Oracle, Lawma, and many more organisations.

  • Daniel Paffenholz – Takataka Solutions, Kenya 

In Nairobi, Kenya, less than half of the total trash makes it to the popular dumpsite, at Dandora. The remaining wastes about 2.5 million households generates, end up unaccounted for.

With the diverse waste generated by millions of Nairobi households, Daniel Paffenholz launched a waste management company, Takataka solutions, to battle their waste issues. To achieve this, Daniel came up with an innovative waste management solution to promote the recycling and combustion of trash generated in the state. Takataka (which means trash in the Kiswahili), made waste collection affordable for the residents living in various parts of Nairobi. They collect waste like every other waste collector, but, instead of taking it to a landfill, these are taken to their own sites, it’s sorted, and then recycled either the company or through their local partners. 

  •  Andrew Mupuya – Yeli, Uganda

Due to excessive environmental pollution, the Ugandan government placed a ban on plastic bags, sparking an ingenious idea to manufacture paper bags in a 16 year old Ugandan boy. His name? Andrew Mupuya. Andrew founded Yeli, Uganda’s first paper bag company, in 2008. The aim of his company was to provide an environmentally friendly replacement for plastic bags in the country. At the time he founded the company, his parents had both lost their jobs, and he was still in secondary school.

To start his business, he raised $11 by selling 70 kilograms of plastic wastes, and borrowed another $3 from his teacher. As he raised the capital, he visited various kiosks and small businesses to know if they had any need for paper bags. After discovering there was a huge demand for what he was intending to manufacture, he raised off to the internet to learn how to make paper bags, since he had no knowledge of it. To manufacture the paper bag, Andrew uses recycled waste paper from Kenya and Uganda. To minimize the impact of his company’s activity on the environment, all the operations are manual.

Today, Andrew’s paper bag company has grown exponentially, with him producing at least 20,000 paper bags a week, and acquiring a long list of clients ranging from supermarkets to restaurants, medical centres, multinational companies, and the likes. His achievements have aided him in winning the $30,000 Anzisha Prize, only awarded to African entrepreneurs who startup businesses to solve problems in their local communities, and has gotten him featured on prominent international media outlets like CNN, How We Made It In Africa, Forbes, and the likes.

  • Gys Louw – Rent-A-Drum, Namibia

Rent-A-Drum was envisioned and started in Namibia in the year 1989 by an entrepreneur and visionary named Gys Louw. The family-run business was first thought up by Gys, when the municipality stopped collecting waste. He realised he could get into the waste management business on time to collect garden refuse before any other business took over the opportunity.

Through the years that have passed, Gys Louw has built Rent-A-Drum to be the largest waste management company in the country. His company collects many types of wastes ranging from mining waste to medical wastes, household wastes, and also manages residential, commercial, and government contracts. He has, through his business in Namibia, built a first of its kind material recovery facility where about 2000 tons of recyclables are sorted and baled, has over 70 vehicles collecting recyclables from over 200,000 households every month, and has over 23 years, setup several other waste management companies covering various waste collection and management categories in Namibia.

  •  Lorna Rutto – EcoPost, Kenya

Lorna Rutto, quit her job with a bank in 2009 to pursue a career in waste management. She founded a company named EcoPost, which focused on recycling plastic wastes collected from garbage cans and dump sites in Nairobi, to manufacture fencing posts.

These posts are used in houses and forest reserves to fence the properties, and are getting increasingly popular. With over 10,000 posts made, over 500 jobs created, and over $150,000 in yearly revenue, her small business hasn’t just turned into a great income stream for her, but has also helped her save forests spanning over 250 acres, which would have been used otherwise, for construction work around Kenya.

Her small business success has gotten international recognitions with her winning several awards like the Bid Network Nature Challenge Award, SEED Award, Enablis Business Award, and several others.

From the individuals above, we can see that opportunities abound around us and we discover these when we embark on solving problems that are present around us.

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