How one local entreprenuer taught Lagos, Nigeria to embrace recycling

With a clever business solution, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola is turning trash into treasure.

How one local entreprenuer taught Lagos, Nigeria to embrace recycling
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola Cofounder/CEO, Wecyclers [Photos: Ruth McDowall]

Lagos, Nigeria, is home to 21 million people, but only 40% of their trash is collected. The rest ends up in heaps, spreading disease. To lessen the burden, a local named Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola launched the recycling startup Wecyclers. Its challenge: Teach people to care about trash.

The Problem

“People in the U.S. are very careful about taking care of waste. I thought, Why not Nigeria?” says Adebiyi-Abiola. She conceived Wecyclers in 2011, while earning her MBA at MIT. But when she went home, she found that few locals were motivated by talk of helping their environment.

The Execution

Lagos generates 735,000 tons of plastic each year, worth about $300 million to waste brokers. “That’s money lying on the street,” Adebiyi-Abiola says. So she built an exchange: Lagos residents give Wecyclers their bottles and cans, and receive cash or household items in return.

Recycle bicycle: Adebiyi-Abiola on a cart that her staff uses to make collections

The Result

Now they think, I shouldn’t just throw this Coke bottle on the floor or out the window,” she says. Wecyclers visits 6,000 homes a week; recyclables are collected and weighed, and rewards are tallied. The process is already netting 40 tons of recyclables a month.