The term "biodegradable" has been used over the past few years, to describe plastics or packaging that could potentially be metabolized by microorganisms in nature, with complete breakdown to CO2/Methane, water and biomass. However, there is significant confusion and controversy surrounding biodegradable plastics since many suppliers have used the term to loosely describe their material/packaging without specifying the conditions under which the material would degrade in nature. For instance, some plastics (like PLA) will only degrade under industrial composting conditions, while some others (like PHA) can break down under a wider range of conditions and environments (industrial, backyard, marine). Given this widespread confusion and the misuse of the "biodegradable" term, many global government and industry organizations have issued guidelines to restrict or eliminate the unqualified use of biodegradable as a descriptor of plastics or packaging. These include the European Commission guidelines (European Plastics Strategy) and the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides in the US.
In line with such guidelines, Ubuntoo's recommends that companies providing biodegradable materials, products or packaging:
1.Avoid unqualified use of the term "biodegradable" to describe their products
2.Any claim of biodegradability should be accompanied by a description of specific conditions and environments under which the material or product will undergo degradation in nature
3.It is strongly recommended that companies provide globally accepted certifications or testing for various biodegradability claims (such as the BPA certification for industrial composting)
Further in line with the position articulated by the European Commission as well as major CPG companies, Ubuntoo recommends that "biodegradable" plastics should not be considered a solution for littering (or worse a license to litter). Appropriate collection and end-of-life solutions (such as industrial composting or home composting) need to be put into place to avoid biodegradable plastics ending up as litter in the environment.
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Wecyclers is a for-profit social enterprise that promotes environmental sustainability, socioeconomic development, and community health by providing convenient recycling services in densely populated urban neighborhoods. The Company gives households a chance to generate value from their waste and provide a reliable supply of raw material to the local recycling industry.
Wecyclers addresses the challenge of urban waste. When the company began in 2012, only 40% of the city’s waste was collected and only a mere 13% was recycled. People living in slum conditions without formal waste collection are at risk of property damage; the spread of diseases and undue psychological stress. Improperly disposed trash tends to clog gutters and drainage canals leading to floods during rainfall. Unmanaged trash heaps also create a burden for community residents who are forced to navigate obstructed roadways and deal with the smoke from frequent trash fires.
Concurrently, recycling firms in Lagos face a supply constraint—they cannot access adequate supply of quality materials required for processing. One of the large recycling firms in the country is operating its factory at 50 to 60% below capacity. Today, more of the waste is collected but a large portion consists of recyclable materials that we can recover to produce new goods more sustainably and reduce the flow of materials into landfills and into the natural environment.
Wecyclerssolution has been to develop a rewards-for-recycling platform that incentivizes people in low-income communities to capture value from recyclable waste. Wecyclers built this platform on a fleet of relatively cheap, and locally assembled cargo bikes called “wecycles” that their collectors use to pick up recyclable waste from households and deliver the materials to the collection centers which are as well sorting and packaging hubs located around Lagos. As the people give the materials, Wecyclers teams reward the service subscribers with points per kilogram of recycled waste, which they can exchange for essential goods such as food and household items.
Since its inception, the company has grown, and have incorporated motorized tricycles, vans, and trucks to expand their reach across the Lagos metropolis and enable them to provide materials to manufacturers who turn the recyclable material into new items including tissue paper, stuffing for bedding materials, sturdy plastic furniture, aluminum sheets, and nylon bags. In essence, the company is building a low-cost waste management infrastructure using mobile tech and cargo bikes, and providing incentives for people to embrace the environmentally friendly habit of recycling their waste.
Graduate of the University of Lagos, Fisk University and masters from Vanderbilt University. She worked for IBM for five years before doing an MBA at MIT where she first came up with the idea for a recycling business. Her initial idea was to increase the quantity of waste she could collect from households by offering them raffle tickets in exchange. When she discussed this in Nigeria on a vacation she was surprised at the enthusiasm for her ideas. She took the idea back to MIT where she was able to gather support by entering her idea in competitions. Post that she returned to Lagos and whilst her children were at school she commuted each day to establish her new recycling business that she called Wecyclers.