Ugo Aliogo writes on the new waste management strategy being implemented by Visionscape Sanitation Solution in Lagos

Waste generation has become a global issue which countries are making frantic efforts to address. According to the World Bank, with rapid population growth and urbanisation, municipal waste generation is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.

Thus, to build sustainable and liveable cities, proper waste management is essential. To this end, Visionscape Sanitation Solution has developed an environmentally sustainable waste management strategy that it is implementing in Lagos. After operating for four months in the state, the company discovered that the state needed 15 million black bags yearly, among other waste management related supplies. Therefore, they have launched a plan to convert plastic bottles to black bio-degradable bags in order to use the bags to convey waste. This closed-loop strategy is part of the commitment of the company to innovation in waste management practice in the country.

Partnership

The mandate of Visionscape under the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) management reforms is to provide the backbone infrastructure to aid effective handling of waste to reduce the large volume of waste in Lagos State. From Visionscape’s discovery, over 70 per cent of the waste that litter the streets of Lagos is commercial waste. As part of the demands of the partnership, the company is making efforts to clear the waste through the collection of large tonnes of waste daily.

The partnership ensures that there is no element of residential waste that is not picked up efficiently since it is being mixed with commercial waste, and confused for household waste. However, there is a misconception that lies in the issue of residential waste collection, which the company is trying to address.

Due to the fast-tracking of its infrastructure programme and investment, Visionscape has reached out to the Waste Collection Operators (WCOs), who would supervise the old Private Sector Participants (PSPs) and in partnership with them, execute the mandate for the CLI.

“While we concentrate on spending the investment to fast track the infrastructure because of the fire in the Olushosun dumpsite, we have decided to concentrate on years three and four of our 10-year mandate. However, we realised that it is a big gap and risk to the lives of Lagosians, so we decided to approach the government to fast-track what is known as element three of our core business mandate, which is infrastructure investment, and bring to the fore of our project,” Chief Executive Officer, Visionscape, John Irvine, said.

In 2017, it was decided that on a concessionary agreement, they would take over the existing facilities from the state and invest money in the project.

Upgraded Facilities

In January 2018, Visionscape launched the transfer loading station systems. The renovated facilities are in Agege, Lagos Island, and Oshodi, with smaller facilities in Mushin and Ogudu. They have upgraded and invested in these facilities in order for them to deliver 21st century services. The new facility located in Lagos Island would serve as one of many hubs strategically located throughout the state, that would enable Visionscape and other WCOs temporarily deposit collected waste from within city limits, to be transported in bulk to the landfills for processing and disposal.

Irvine stated that the investment they were making in infrastructure was not for the next nine and half years of the CLI, but for the next 15, 20, and 25 years.

In the previous system, the government along with old PSPs – which was managed under the Lagos State Management Authority (LAWMA) – was carrying out the waste management service and took it to Olusosun, Badagry and Epe dumpsites.

According to Irvine, “Evacuating the waste from the point of generation, there has to be a transferable system which will take it to the Transfer Loading Stations (TLS), and the Epe Eco Park. We are building a multi-purpose Eco Park, with engineered landfill cells, a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), recycling facilities and an Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant for organic waste, tyre recycling, and more. This will allow the converting of large amount of waste to resources. Our ambition is to develop a closed loop system, converting approximately 50 per cent of waste into a product to go back into the CLI.”

He remarked that they were very pragmatic in their approach, therefore the strategies they are deploying for first cycle of the investment is one that would surpass this generation and lay a foundation for the next generation.

He added that their brief was for 10 years, after which they would hand over the investment to government, noting that it is a commercial risk involved. Irvine argued that the CLI was a government-led service; therefore whatever happens at the end of the 10 years would be second cycle, and whether Visionscape retains the cycle or not, is a commercial risk.

The task before Irvine is to ensure that the money given to him is well spent and recouped within the 10-year period. What the company has adopted is a strategy which ensures that they depreciate its investment over the 10-year period; therefore the money spent is zero on their balance sheet, because the factor of depreciation has set in. However, at the end of the 10 years, there is still value in what Visionscape will have implemented, as the infrastructure set will not lose its value if it is being maintained and can last for over 20 years.

Strategic Approach

The partnership, according to the Visionscape CEO, is performance-based and as long as they perform within the guidelines of the project awarded to them, they would be able to make profit. However, the misconception in the market place is that the funds the company is investing for the CLI is coming from government or taxpayers. Irvine disagreed with this view expressed by some section of the public, and noted that the money invested is from Visionscape investors.

Irvine said, “This is private money invested in an infrastructure project on a concession basis. What I mean here is that over a certain period of time, we invest in the infrastructure.

“We get the money by performing on a performance basis. Therefore, the better I perform, the more projects we get. In this project, there is something called the risk and reward system. The risk is that I perform underneath my scope in the initiative, and the reward is that is I get my profit margin to ensure that I cover the initial cost of my investment in the period of the 10 years. The cost includes manpower investment, vehicle investment and infrastructure investment.

“A lot of the waste has a value, but it only has a value if there is an outlet at the end of collection process. Many people have asked why we waste resources to make electricity, instead of just burning the waste collected. I cannot sell back electricity back to the federal and State government for two reasons. The federal government cannot pay me money for power generation. Secondly, the infrastructure to carry the power which has been generated is not in the country presently.”

Irvine’s viewpoint regarding power generation is that the power generated in the Visionscape Epe Eco Park cannot sufficiently power the metropolis, because the infrastructure has not been upgraded. Therefore, he noted that the idea for the solid waste conversion and waste-to-wealth is for the landfill miners (scavengers), who will also be compensated and brought into the Visionscape family. The opportunity will allow them to become the company’s official employees; they will be pensioned and be provided with healthcare.

The company also has plans of building a MRF. They will embark on diversion of the commodity (a waste that has a value), such as plastic. The company are also currently building an AD plant.

According to him, “The solid waste in the state has value. But to extract that value takes infrastructural investment. Without infrastructural investments, none of this can be possible. This is not about waste collection – that is only a small element – it is what we do with the waste that matters, such as processing, conversion and diversion to the landfill site for final disposal.

“The MRF, AD plant and the necessary infrastructure are not built yet because we just started this project (waste conversion) in January. We have only taken ownership of the residential door-to-door collection in January; people often forget that, thinking we have been here for over 10 years. We have been in the state since 2016.

“In 2017, we began surveying, putting the bits, and litter black spots cleaning, which was also when the pre-residential contract took off. If you go to the Epe Eco Park, you will find the best weighbridge in the world with the state of the arts; it is fully automated. The weighbridge would have taken me four to five months to build, but it took 10 months. To lay the foundation, we had to dig three times the required depth because of the way the waste was indiscriminately dumped; and we had to do remediation work there, because there were all kinds of wastes there such as medical, hazardous and leachate waste.

“We took over and cleaned the area, then started to build the control dam. Now when you come to Epe to dump your waste, it is well managed and treated. We have remediation and we will build engineered landfilling area, which will house a leachate control system to take away all the bad contaminated water, so there is no environmental danger to the water table.

“We will manage the emitting gases, encapsulate it and use the fuel for vehicles. I get frustrated when people think it is not working, what you are seeing here happens all over the world. Lagos is not as dirty as people think; there is a process and system which is currently working. Before now, the infrastructure that was here was not able to handle the waste that was been generated.

“The conversion of the waste on our landfill site, we are probably two months ahead because of our landfill infrastructure. It is going to take us six months to do the remediation work, therefore what this implies is that all the waste there has to go to one area, so we can start laying down the lining and the pipes for the emitting gas and leachate capture, which will take a long time.

“The ideal infrastructure will never be in place because it is an evolving process. While I complete the Lagos TLSs in three months, I hope to start working in there to begin to add new technologies and changing the systems. The timeline for an easy journey from waste generation to the final disposal will take between six to nine months, but the evolution of the infrastructure is a 10-year period. It will take six to nine months to build the plant and begin the conversion of these solid wastes to useable products.”

Perception

According to the company, during their nine months of survey, they discovered over 5,000 litter black spots and illegal dumpsites in Lagos, and within seven months period, they cleaned an excess of 3,500 spots taking away thousands tonnes of wastes in the state.

He explained that they have cleaned up these litter black spots and they are trying to concentrate on the other 1,500, adding that they often receive calls after the exercise that half of the black spots they cleaned are now back again, due to the activities of individuals. To remedy this he said, “we have a team monitoring the indiscriminate dumping of waste. They are known as the Monitoring and Intervention (MNI). When MNI identify black spots, they go clean it.”

Irvine further argued that the second perception was that LAWMA was doing a better job, and they cleaned the street quicker. He alleged that the wastes collected by LAWMA were deposited at dumpsites that endangered the lives of people.

He stated, “There is a misconception that much attention is given to the Island than the Mainland. It is not correct we are addressing the waste collection challenges in both the Mainland and Island. As a Lagosians, if you find an area with large amount of waste, you call the CLI helpline and the waste will be collected by Visionscape MNI team.

“We have had feedback from the government office that they are impressed with what we are doing. Though there are still some areas that needs tightening up. The reason why these areas are waiting to catch up is because there is no infrastructure in place. This is why the TLSs and the depots have to be fast-tracked. It is why we have invested over 3 million dollars in procuring the trucks and vehicles needed to convey tonnes of wastes, and that is why the Eco Park is paramount.”