Providing decent work for unskilled labour can save lives




RecycleGarb Hub Limited is a leading recycling start-up company in West Africa’s largest city–Ibadan, once reputed for filth. The company has partnerships with key players in the waste and environment sectors, including WestAfricaENRG and NESREA. In her interview with PAUL OMOROGBE, its CEO, Adebola Sobanjo, explains her motivation for leaving banking for recycling, and how less than three years of pursuing this vision has enabled her to mentor other young people into recycling, to save lives, and to provide a source of livelihood for unskilled labour.

What motivated you to go into recycling?

My journey into recycling grew out of passion and concern for the environment. When I started, it wasn’t really about recycling, but how to eliminate and mitigate waste from public spaces. The waste problem motivated me to further research on possible sustainable solutions. While researching, I realised waste has lots of negative effects on the environment and human health, so I was more inspired to engage and be a solution provider.

How did you begin?

I began in 2016, using my car to pick up waste especially PET and aluminium cans. I had a neighbour, who has an open space where I stored the recyclables. I did this for almost a year, employing the services of young people who I also mentored.

It all began to take shape when I was accepted for an entrepreneurial boot camp. I took the lessons from there, started the first clean-up project: ‘Ibadan Goes Green’ and since then it’s been a progressive run. Not without challenges, but progressive!

What problem do you want to solve? What is the gap you are trying to fill?

The problem is a huge one. We can only claim to solve a part of the problem. We have always dealt with collecting waste from dumps, roadsides, event centres and drainages. What we do is significant because we tackle the waste problem before it flows into water bodies and becomes a serious landfill issue. This is because waste in landfills releases toxins which poison our ground water that our boreholes and wells connect to, and releases methane into the atmosphere. When waste flows into our water bodies, it ends up as fish food, poisoning fish, and eventually us as the final consumers. So, what problems do we solve? We save the environment and save lives.

Tell us the scale of your operations currently.

We are currently not doing as much as we would like to but we are not doing badly as well. We currently recover and sort over 20 tonnes of PET monthly. However, we constantly work towards a 50 per cent monthly growth.

Unskilled labourers now have a means of livelihood in RecycleGarb. How is this happening?

Yes! We believe in equal opportunity for all. Anyone can work with us, as either assorter, material recovery officer or as technical personnel –as long as you’re willing to learn and become a change agent. We believe and look forward to creating more income opportunities beyond certification but as well for the underprivileged citizens.

What are the challenges the business is facing?

The biggest challenge we have is funding — funds for logistics, implementation of strategic marketing and expansion. We need a truck and tricycles good enough to consistently transport recyclables from point to point. If we solve this issue, we will significantly increase our monthly volume. However, we can’t over-emphasize the challenges of nonchalant citizens towards being responsible to your environment. The willingness of people to sort and recycle waste is a ‘tug of war’ in our society.

What are the partnerships you have?

WestAfricaENRG, NESREA Oyo State, OYOWMA, EarthLight Int’l, REESAfrica, NewCycle, just to mention but a few. However, we have lots of underground work that will form more partnerships to better serve the society.

Your projections for the future?

Our immediate goal is to expand our production cycle and monthly recovery to 100 tonnes of plastics, and to help younger recyclers find a place in the industry. We also have a technical plan that will help in the reduction of inappropriate and overflow of waste on medians.