Merely 15% of globally generated plastic waste is recycled. Of that dismal statistic, this 15% often concerns only the ‘easy to recycle’ plastics such as PET, HDPE, and PP. For more than 4 decades, WASTE has been supporting plastic recycling in the transition to circular economy. This particularly keeps plastics longer in the ‘loop’ in the low- and middle-income countries where we work. How do we do this? We identify entrepreneurs with viable business ideas, provide technical support where needed, and linkages to services such as equipment suppliers and access to finance.
Today, WASTE is pleased to announce the publication of ‘PLASTIC WASTE RECYCLING HEROES, INSIGHTS & CASE STUDIES FROM AFRICAN ENTREPRENEURS’ developed by WASTE advisers, Sophie van den Berg and Verele de Vreede, in collaboration with our local partners and the featured entrepreneurs themselves. This publication will share lessons learned from three excellent entrepreneurs in three different African countries. Oumar in Mali, Kevin in Kenya, and Mamadou in Senegal are circular economy trailblazers who are proving the viability of new circular business models, encouraging innovative partnerships and knowledge sharing. They are an example for many young people who also aspire to start businesses in these niche sectors.
Why are they successful and what challenges did they encounter and still need to overcome?
We have showcased and analysed their businesses in detail here. We also are looking at this collection of insights on plastic recycling and exploring key questions regarding accelerating plastic recycling as part of a shift towards circular economy initiatives across the African continent. The publication examines the potential of plastic recycling in these waste sectors and highlights existing successful practices to learn from.
1. Education to develop plastic recycling skills is needed
There are clear gaps in knowledge about plastic recycling and the needed equipment to process and reuse it effectively. Training courses on operating such equipment and the opportunities could greatly improve the landscape. Our three featured entrepreneurs, Oumar, Kevin and Mamadou, all travelled to Europe to find the training they were seeking. To grow the plastic recycling sector in African countries, capacity building on equipment, troubleshooting, and maintenance are needed locally to make this knowledge more accessible to more people.
2. Support from key local stakeholders is crucial
Government authorities play a key role in the promotion and viability of the plastic recycling sector. This, not only by their approaches and support to local waste management systems, but also by the economic policies they adopt. For example, import regulations on virgin pellets may determine the feasibility and the level of plastic recycling in the country. Furthermore, by facilitating separation at source schemes, together with the establishment of material recovery facilities, they can organise the supply chain necessary for plastic recycling. By adapting Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, they can facilitate the financial viability of the sector.
3. Without profit, there is no plastic recycling
The analysed case studies show that to establish a profitable business, it is needed to produce a recycled product with sufficient market and that can be sold with enough margin. Quality and price need to be less or equal to the product made from virgin plastics. This also explains why only certain types of plastic are recycled and the others are lying around on the streets, waste dumps and end up in the rivers.
4. There is also a strong need for upstream innovation
This concerns solutions that minimise the amounts of plastic produced in the first place. It is necessary to provide alternatives that can be adopted to reduce reliance on plastic or contribute to eliminating plastic usage. But also additional funding and subsidies are needed to fill the financial gap and make recycling of difficult to recycle plastic possible. EPR funding is a good example to make this happen.
5. There is a strong need for upstream innovation
Often there is an unstable electricity supply and electricity is expensive. Extrusion, which is a key process in plastic recycling enterprises, also uses quite some electricity. Thus, without reliable electricity, it is difficult to recycle plastics using the full capacity of the machines. This is critically important to have enough profit to build sustainable business models and be able to repay loans. Supporting the development of plastic recycling equipment with low electricity usage and more effective and widespread usage of solar panels are two areas where innovation can help sustain this sector.
6. Improving the sector’s reputation to attract private funding
Increasingly, international impact investment funds are exploring waste and recycling sectors, but many still have doubts and prejudices about the sector. Improving the sector’s image and transparency to gain trust of financial institutions and to become reliable partners is needed. Since first investments to obtain a quality plastic recycling line needs an investment starting at €100 K- €150 K is also a huge factor hampering the growth of the sector. Most enterprises active in solid waste management and/or plastic recycling cannot justify such an early investment, lacking the necessary hard track record and collateral.
This research and publication has been realised under the EJOM project: Young people in Mali often lack decent employment opportunities, leading to high levels of unemployment. Funded by the European Union, a consortium of ICCO, WASTE, APEJ, led by SNV, is implementing the Value Chain Development and Youth Employment in Mali (EJOM) project. The project takes place in the four regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, Gao and the district of Bamako, all areas where young Mali people face systemic employment challenges. WASTE’s interventions in the project focusses on setting up small businesses in solid waste management and improving existing ones to help them to grow and create employment.