Charles Obi Nnanna: Creating Wealth from Waste
Charles Obi Nnanna is founder / chief executive officer of KALTANI, a recycling and waste management company. In this interview with MARY NNAH, he shared his passion for the business of recycling, promoting its importance and sustainable development, the circular economy, and tackling unemployment in Nigeria
When did you first become interested in recycling and plastic waste management?
I believe I became interested in this space when I realised the magnitude of the problem at hand. When you stop to think about it, you realise that in a couple of years we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean, and more and more people will be ingesting microplastics which are known to cause quite serious illnesses. I believe my interest further grew when I recognised how more and more Nigerians and Africans can be empowered and can earn a living from sustainable jobs and how it can be a significant tool to reduce unemployment, and subsequent brain drain from the continent via illegal migration through the Mediterranean.
KALTANI describes itself as a clean-tech plastic waste recycling company aiming to solve Africa’s growing plastic waste and unemployment crisis. What does it mean to be a clean-tech company?
Clean tech speaks to the environment and the sustainable nature of our processes and our technology. It speaks to who we are as a company via the reduction of carbon emissions and pollution in a traceable and transparent way. With our traceable and transparent methodology, we can quantify and qualify our environmental, social, and environmental impact in whatever community we operate in. Our goals are massive, the societal problems we aim to solve won’t be solved overnight but we are committed to staying the course and devising more practical and scalable solutions to solve the problems at hand.
Nigeria has a problem with the proper disposal or conversion of plastic waste, especially in our urban cities. Are there specific steps you and your team are taking to address this?
At KALTANI, we are making recycling easier for the common man. We are positioning recycling collection centers in densely populated city centers and regions to make it easier for everyone to recycle, no matter how big or small the volumes are. We are monetising peoples’ plastic waste and also incentivising adequately. We are working on some more ingenious solutions to encourage more recycling. I believe we know what that is so stay tuned.
One of Nigeria’s challenges with waste collection is that the waste is not being separated. Plastic waste has become a severe problem; how are you tackling this?
Co-mingled waste is a problem in Nigeria and will continue to be for quite a while until more recycling/waste management companies can handle waste from the source. Essentially waste management contracts in states in Nigeria and other countries in Africa should be given to proven companies with experience, history, capacity, facilities, trucks, and centers. It should be privatised and made to earn revenue for the states and countries. It should be articulated and used as an employer of labour for the specialised, skilled, and unskilled but this can only be done via a company that has a vision.
You recently raised $4 Million in seed funding for Kaltani. Why is plastic waste management so hot right now? What are investors betting on here? Are there economic benefits to plastic waste recycling?
Our raise history has been as follows: Pre-seed round – $1,500,000; Seed round – $4,000,000.
We will have multiple other rounds after this, Series A, B, and C. Why? Because the problem is a significant one, that requires significant capital, scalable, aggressive, and robust solutions.
Sustainability is in, the circular economy is in, multinationals, international organisations, and state and national governments must all be concerned about their carbon footprint today, so everyone is looking for ways to address their footprint. Sadly, there aren’t many investment ready companies, so those that are investment ready must be courted adequately so that real impact can be made and fast.
Africa is the last frontier for scalable, high returns businesses but the long view must always be taken into consideration and never the short view. Plastic recycling is a multi-billion-dollar industry; the economic benefits are quite considerable.
How can Nigeria, like other emerging African markets, build a sustainable plastic waste management strategy?
They can do so by working with private African companies that know how to get this done. At KALTANI, we are ready and happy to sit with leaders to establish recycling/ waste management companies that have the potential to solve a bevy of problems for these governments. There is no need re-inventing the wheel, contact us at KALTANI, let’s work together and solve this problem.
How do you contribute to local content, empowerment, and capacity building?
In every region, we operate and we currently operate in 17 different cities, we hire the locals in each city, and we work with the local chiefs and security too. We won’t go into environments to disrupt; we go into environments to empower. We even offer scholarships to the regions we collect and recycle waste from. Finally, we have foundations that empower women and youth that want to start their own recycling businesses. In a nutshell, you want KALTANI to operate in your state and country.
What is the future of the Waste and Recycling business regarding financial and industry growth?
The future is bright, the time is now for sustainability and a circular economy and it will be this way for decades. The market is a vast one and is also growing in double digits. It’s a good time to be green, what can I say?
What is the precise link between plastic waste management and economic empowerment and how does Kaltani promote this?
Plastic waste management, solid waste management, and economic empowerment are directly correlated. The more companies like KALTANI succeed the more people, governments, companies, and all stakeholders are empowered socially, environmentally, developmentally, and economically.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
“No Excuses” – “Excuses are tools of the incompetent. They build monuments of nothingness. Those who choose to use them seldom amount to anything.” Actually a poem but it surely does resonate with me, so I refuse to give excuses, I say I do it, I don’t procrastinate, I execute. If I don’t do it, I don’t give excuses, why I couldn’t do it, I man up and I get it done!