By MADUABUCHI EFEGADI
Plastic waste has become one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, particularly in countries that do not currently have the infrastructure to support recycling, Nigeria inclusive. According to the OECD, global plastic waste generation more than doubled from 2000 to 2019 to 353 million tonnes.
According to a United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) report, Nigeria generates over 32 million tonnes of waste annually, with plastic accounting for 2.5 million tonnes.
But the World Population Review, in a 2021 plastic pollution by country report, said Nigeria was identified as the seventh-largest country in the world generating plastic waste – amounting to about 5.96 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.
To this end, the British Council’s Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme 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 which 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 the 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.
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.
For 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 organisations 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, 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.”