Mismanaged plastic waste and unsustainable plastic production are commonplace in the 21st century.
Challenges include thin capacity and investment in waste collection and recycling, varying levels of awareness of sustainable practices among businesses and consumers, and the niche nature of innovative and alternative models supporting reduction and reuse.
Nigeria generates some 32 million tons of waste yearly, of which 2.5 million tons are plastic according to government data. Due to a poor waste management system and recycling practices, a huge proportion ends up in landfills, sewers, beaches, and water bodies.
To this end, the British Council’s Innovation for African Universities (IAU) program is supporting a project of collaboration between academics from the Pan-African University Life and Earth Sciences in Nigeria (PAU-LESiN), De Montfort University in the UK, and Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria, which aims to encourage people in Nigeria to explore opportunities for turning waste into wealth.
The partnership is looking at a wide range of ideas, including the production of a machine that can convert waste plastic into filaments for use in a 3D printer. It is believed that this conversion can add up to twenty times the value of plastic waste. 3D printers are expensive to import, so the project team is also working with local skills to enable 3D printers to be produced locally in Nigeria.
At the Pan-African University Life and Earth Sciences, students are studying the opportunities that reusing plastic can bring, not just for themselves but for the whole community.
Speaking on the benefits of the British Council plastic conversion initiative, Esther Akinlabi, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Pan-African University Life and Earth Sciences (PAU-LESiN), said plastic waste is a menace in Nigeria, a huge problem, which has blocked drainage and caused flooding in Lagos and across the country and in the cities. “We are looking at creating awareness to let people become conscious of the fact that we can recycle, and we can reuse plastic waste.”
While 3D printing is not suitable for mass manufacturing, its use for single items such as the wheel on a hospital trolley, is more cost-effective, especially when it uses local plastic waste for the conversion.
Dr. Muyiwa Oyinlola, associate professor of engineering for sustainable development, and director of the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development at De Montfort University:
“The average man or woman is more interested in how they put food on the table and the other necessities of life, so the plastic challenge is low on their radar. What we are doing is looking at how we add value and make enterprises out of plastic waste. For example, producing affordable 3D printers locally will foster enterprise in filament production as well as 3D printed products even in remote areas.”
Damilola Teidi from Co-Creation Hub said: “Nigeria’s Co-Creation Hub, which supports start-ups, has been running entrepreneurship masterclasses and innovation challenges for students. It provides the bridge between innovation and enterprise.
“The best outcome is the students build out solutions to problems, and the private sector puts it into use. That’s the goal. As well as connecting them with other players in the enterprise ecosystem. While not every idea will become a business, the hope is the knowledge gained will help build a circular economy where waste is seen as a potential resource,” Teidi said.
The project is part of the British Council’s Innovation for African Universities programme, which includes partner universities and enterprise and innovation organizations in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and the UK. The programme comprises 24 project partnerships and aims to grow universities’ capabilities for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, developing the skills graduates require to build sustainable industries, companies, and services.
Daniel Emenahor, the spokesperson at The British Council, said: “Through stronger peer-to-peer connections and sharing best practices and knowledge between higher education institutions, the programme aims to enhance students’ employability and support economic development across Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa now and into the future.”