Creating Wealth from Waste

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Kuni Tyessi looks at some of the ways Nigerians can convert waste to wealth, as practised in the American University of Nigeria 

Most foreigners have complained that after so much talk, especially in the media that Nigeria is the giant of Africa and the most populous black nation on earth, it is most unfortunate that the first monumental thing they observe is the heap of refuse and filth that seem to surround the whole place.
This invariably changes the notion already given and many a visitor begins to wonder how the status of being giant came into place. Besides, the population which has risen over the years to approximately 170 million today, it is said to be one of the countries whose population doubles every 15 years. Arguably, Nigeria in the next 15 years will be the fifth most populous nation in the world after China, India, America and Indonesia.
While there is strength in numbers, how it is used and where it is channeled to, is of paramount importance. However, physical and numerical strength will not achieve so much if the people’s creative and mental strength to transform their  wastes into useful and valuable resources are lacking.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has always come to the rescue in assisting developing countries in areas of sanitation, waste disposal and many others. It has this time around made a clarion call to NGOs in the areas of disposing e-waste as it poses great dangers to the health of not just those close by but also those far away as it is known to diffuse into the atmosphere.
An excursion to American University Nigeria (AUN), one of Africa’s fast growing institutions will prove that Nigeria is the most blessed of all the world’s countries. For while the country has almost everything to move forward, it is lacking in the drive and will-power to get things done.
Who could have thought that plastics, sand and laterite can produce a bullet-proof wall with durability of 200 years? Who could have thought that a polythene bag should not be discarded which is the usual practice, as it can be washed, dried, cut into shreds to serve as threads and later used to make key-holders, mats, bags, baskets, artworks and many others with the use of gifted hands, powerful imagination and creativity and crochet?
How many companies and industries have thought of converting the residue of palm oil and other kitchen oils into fuel which can be used by so many machines? The list is just endless with what Nigerians stand to achieve when the culture of recycling is properly put into place and with enabling laws to bring it to fruition. It will not be too much if incentives are given at the initial stage in order to serve as encouragement, as the typical Nigerian believes in things that are free.
A weekend at the AUN was inspiring after coming in contact with women who used to be full-time house wives with no means of livelihood, even in the form of petty-trading. Coming to AUN to learn the art of knitting with the use of polythene bags did not only liberate them from the shackles of poverty. It doubled their value in the home-front and in the sight of a class-filled society.
One of the beneficiaries of the training and also an expert in the recycling of polythene bags, Amina Yahaya, said “The trade captivated me after I saw it and how it is made and because of that, I decided to learn. When I make anything from the materials, the school helps in selling them for me and I get my money. I will encourage women who are full time house wives to come and learn the craft. They shouldn’t think we are coming here to waste our time. No, we are learning a lot and making something good out of our lives.
Sometimes I make N4,000 or N5,000 and sometimes I make as much as N9,000 or even N10,000. It helps a lot and so I’m calling on fellow women who have nothing to do to come out in their numbers and learn trades. Let us make use of our hands to improve ourselves and the conditions of our families. Honestly, I have learnt so much. The materials include polythene bags,and they can be of different colours and a crochet.
“For the materials, we can get some of them in markets and sometime we pick them from the ground as there is nothing that can be called waste. You can even send little children to pick them for you, thereby engaging their minds and energies into useful adventures.”
“After gathering them, we wash them with Omo detergent or any kind of detergent so that they can be clean and fit for use. After washing, they are dried on cloth lines and pegged so that they don’t fly away.
“At this juncture, it is important to note that the women are emphasising that nothing is useless as there is always something a supposedly useless object or material can be used for.
“Whenever my husband or anyone brings things to the house, I quickly remove the items from the polythene bags and wash and dry them after which I knit them and make my money.
“Money is not needed as capital in this form of business as you can even tell your neighbours to gather their used polythene bags for you. Creativity and time takes the place of finance and can be referred to as using what you have to get what you want: which is money.
“I expect that as a woman, when your fellow woman is always asking you for polythene bags, you should come close to see what she uses them for. Ask questions and crave the desire to learn. For the ones that have been taught, cultivate the habit of coming close to them and learn also.
“Everybody in this vicinity knows about this recycling and or handwork and I’m so thankful to God Almighty for the opportunity to learn the trade and I’m equally praying for long life so that I can do more. We have stopped fighting with our husbands. These days we buy meat, soups and other items for home use. The trade has lessened the upheavals in our families.
“I remember when we started, we will walk some distance to get to AUN and at that time, our children and grand children were laughing at us. It seemed like a useless venture but it is paying us today.
“You don’t have to be educated to learn a trade as not all of us can go to school and this is by divine providence. With enlightenment and the knowledge to use your hands and time wisely, you will be able to eat and will also be able to cater for your basic needs.”
THISDAY also discovered that even waste from the shops of tailors can be converted into making beautiful carpets and centre rugs as well as art works that can be placed on walls, dinning and centre tables and shawls.