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Wecyclers: How Texting Can Help Solve Nigeria's Enormous Waste Problem

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 A Nigerian company has a brilliant plan to use cell phones and bicycles together to help solve the country's waste problem while helping to sustain thousands of poor families.

 

With a population of over 20 million people, Lagos, Nigeria, is one of largest cities in the world. Its tons of uncollected trash cause serious problems, including flooding, pollution and the spread of disease. One company is using bicycles and texts to turn the trash into jobs and goods.


Born in Lagos, Bilikiss Adebiyi, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and former IBM software engineer, founded Wecyclers to battle uncollected garbage in Lagos’ low-income settlements. Only about 40 percent of trash and 13 percent of recycling is collected by the government in Lagos, according to the company, and some slums don’t have formal collections at all.

 

Lagos families can subscribe to Wecyclers, which works with the Lagos State Waste Management Agency, to have their recycling collected by a fleet of riders on low-cost cargo bikes. The bikes can navigate around potholes and through narrow streets -- areas that would be inaccessible to other forms of transportation.

 

The families receive points via text for each kilogram of recycling they give, and can redeem those points for goods, such as food and appliances, at special events. These incentives help educate locals about recycling, and encourage them to join the program.

 

Wecyclers employs local residents to collect and sort the recycling, which brings more jobs to the region. The waste, which includes plastic bottles and aluminum cans, is then sold to local recycling factories.


The company says it plans to have more than 100 employees by the end of the year, and has collected about 200 tons of waste from over 5,000 households.

 

The social enterprise has garnered the support of large companies, such as Coca Cola, as well as awards that recognize its innovative service. The organization won the Intel Environment Award at The Tech Awards and a Cartier Women's Initiative Award in 2013.

 

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