Pedal-powered recycling program allows low-income communities to turn waste into value

Wecyclers cargo bike
© Wecyclers

Along with helping neighborhoods to clean up unmanaged waste, Wecyclers also enables people in low-income communities to turn waste into value through an incentive program.

In most modern cities, we don't have to worry so much about what to do with our waste (though we should be doing our part to reduce it), because we have waste management infrastructures in place to take care of everything from picking it up at the curb to sorting it to properly disposing of it or recycling it. However, in many parts of the developing world, waste management systems can be so overburdened that it can create an 'urban waste crisis', leading to not only unsanitary living conditions for the residents (and in the waterways of others who live downstream), but also contributes to their psychological stress due to the urban blight it creates.

One solution, which took top honors in this year's Sustainia Awards, is currently in place in Lagos, Nigeria, and uses a household recycling service with a rewards program to solve the urban waste challenge, effectively letting low-income earn useful goods from the waste in their communities.

Wecyclers uses a fleet of cargo bikes to provide a convenient household recycling service for those living in densely populated low-income neighborhoods in Lagos, where only about 40% of the garbage in this city of 18 million people gets collected. The program is tackling the unmanaged waste situation by connecting it to the needs of recycling firms in the city, many of which are under capacity and suffer from supply constraints due to an inadequate stock of materials to process.

To encourage recycling in the neighborhoods served by Wecyclers, the program incentivizes it with an SMS-based rewards program, which allows families to immediately receive points (sent to their mobile phone) for every kilogram of material they recycle. These points can be redeemed for useful goods, including for basic food items, mobile phone minutes, or household necessities, and essentially enables people to convert waste into value, directly.

Wecyclers was named as one of the Sustainia100 (an annual guide to innovative sustainability solutions across 10 sectors), with Sustainia stating in their summary of the top 10 solutions for 2014 that the service has already had a positive impact:

"This innovative household collection service reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and communities. Wecyclers has already improved the lives of households in the slums of Lags by providing them with a way to capture economic, social, and health benefits from their waste."

Wecyclers already has more than 5000 households signed up with its program, and there are plans to expand the program to other cities in Nigeria, potentially increasing employment opportunities for youth in those cities, as well as helping to reduce some of the environmental impact of urban waste in the neighborhoods they live in.

Find out more about the Sustainia Award at the organization's website.

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