did not grow up with my parents. I grew up with my father’s family. At age three, according to the story I was told, my father’s relation came to visit my family, when he was about to leave, I started crying and followed him.
Idu Okwuosa is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP-I) currently studying at Walden University for a doctoral degree in Business Administration., The mother to three, who loves identifying and resolving problems, left Stanbic IBTC in 2017. She became the Founder and Managing Partner of LasGidis Recyclers in Lekki.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Okwuosa speaks on waste collection, recycling and why Nigerian women should embrace the business.
Why did you leave your lucrative job in the financial sector to become a PET plastic collector?
I was fired from Stanbic IBTC after a long career in the financial sector that spanned over 25 years in 2017. I did not see my sack coming so, I was taken aback when my appointment was terminated as Head, Public Sector for the Group.
The inspiration to start LasGidis Recyclers came on one of my morning walks in my neighborhood of Ikate Elegushi, Lekki, Lagos. I go for works to clear my head and find direction a new direction. I had noticed PET plastics, hard plastics, Styrofoam packs, nylons, and other wastes on the streets, and drainages.
It seemed these PET plastics were calling out to me to rescue them from being treated like other wastes. The PET plastics did not want to be burnt or sent to the landfill knowing they could be recycled and made into new products. My research showed uses for recycled PET plastics.
I visited recycling plants in Lagos, Beruit, Lebanon, and Cape Town, South Africa and was convinced that I could save these plastics and give them a second chance. My business was birthed in December, 2018. I had pioneer staff of 30 widows.
We went around beaches, event centers, markets and streets, picking up plastics. The plan was to get recycling machines to crush them into flakes, and granules and sell to manufacturers of products.
Do you consider yourself a recycler since you collect plastics waste?
Yes. I would consider myself a recycler because I collect and process waste that ordinarily would have been thrown away as trash. I crush the plastics into pellets and sell to manufacturers who turn the pellets into other new products.
For a long time now, I cannot use a PET plastic bottle and discard it like normal trash. I have bags at home where I always separate these plastics from organic waste and, I have influenced my family and friends to do same.
What is the difference between waste collection and recycling?
The difference between waste collection and recycling is that waste collection is the first step in the process of recycling. Waste collection involves separation of recyclable wastes from organic wastes while recycling is the process of collecting, sorting, crushing or shredding, washing, melting, flaking and palletizing of wastes.
Are all plastic materials recyclable?
Not all plastics are recyclable. Straws, nylon, coffee cups are not recyclable. What makes a product recyclable is the market demand for it and the components.
There are two kinds of plastics – thermoset and thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are plastics that can be re-melted and re-molded into new products, hence recycled. Thermoset plastics contain polymers that cross-link to form an irreversible chemical bond and cannot be re-melted.
What processes are used in recycling waste plastic materials?
The simplest of plastic recycling processes involves collecting, sorting, shredding, washing, melting, and pelletizing. The actual particular processes vary based on plastic resin or type of plastic product.
You work mainly with women. Is it a strategy or a norm?
It was a business decision to work with women after I had attended a women entrepreneurial conference in 2018. There I met a lady who operated an NGO for widows in Lagos. I had to hire majority of the women to work with me and to give them a fresh start in life by earning an income to sustain their families. It is a strategy.
Why should Nigerians embrace waste sorting from home?
Because sorting at home is the most important step in the process. It reduces the amount of wastes sent to incinerators and landfills, and prevents streets and drainages being clogged by these wastes. In addition, it makes the environment is cleaner and reduces pollution.
What is the idea behind waste to wealth and how can Nigerians benefit from it?
The idea behind waste to wealth is that one can make money from collecting and selling these recyclable wastes to recyclers instead of throwing them into the trash. One can start at different scales and partner with estates, offices, restaurants, club houses, hotels, hospitals, event centers and more. A van can benefit from waste by collecting it and selling to recyclers and there are recyclers that offer different incentives for waste collected.
What is the average income of a person into recycling?
It is difficult to state the average income of a person who is into recycling. I just started in December and still at the set up and collection phase. The business is capital intensive but from all indications, it is profitable. One has to be strategic in deciding on which area to focus on.
Is there a government policy aiding persons in plastic recycling?
There are no known government policies aiding persons in plastic recycling. All over the world, most governments pay recyclers for collecting these wastes. We are hoping that things will get better. The best way forward would be for Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) in Lagos to partner with recyclers in the area and help sort at source.
How do you break even in the business?
I am still at the infancy stage and have not been unable to come up with the finances required to be fully operational. We took baby steps and launched in December. We are going around signing up partners to collect at source. To break even in this business, you must own your own trucks, manage cost, and be strategic.
What is your advice to women interested in the business of waste collection or recycling?
I would encourage women that are interested in this business to take the bold step and start.
You can start with your home, and expand to your neighbors. You can focus on just waste collection. You do not have to recycle. You can also sell to recyclers. With indiscriminate disposal of waste there are recyclables everywhere and so also are the enormous opportunities therein. More so, recycling brings about a cleaner and pollution-free environment.