HomeGreen PerspectivesTrash to Treasure: Exploring the Lucrative World of ‘Rubbish’

Trash to Treasure: Exploring the Lucrative World of ‘Rubbish’

Recently, Unilever Nigeria and social enterprise, Wecyclers, struck a $2 million partnership deal to expand plastic collection efforts and create 800 jobs for Nigerians. The partnership, set up through an innovative “Development Impact Bond” structured by French investment bank Societe Generale, also allows Wecyclers to scale up its operations of taking plastic waste out of the environment and turning it into raw material for industrial use.

The partnership between Unilever Nigeria and Wecyclers is a prime example of how corporate organizations can contribute to sustainability while simultaneously creating economic opportunities. It also highlights how organizations will invest in sustainable initiatives, even when it involves “rubbish”, as long as it aligns with their commitment to sustainability.

This move shows that indeed, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This saying is reminiscent of many such quotes credited to Isaac Durojaiye (aka Otunba Gaddafi). His name may not ring a bell but the clichés and statements of the pioneer of mobile toilets in West Africa do more than ring: “Owo igbe oon run” (shit money no dey smell), “shit business is good business,” “you call it shit, we call it money.” All these exemplify that trashes and wastes may actually be unpolished diamonds.

Ron Gonen, Founder of the Closed Loop Fund, a social impact fund investing in recycling and circular economy infrastructure better captures this fact when he said, “Turning trash into treasure is not just an environmental responsibility but a path to economic opportunity,”. Gonen’s position highlights the potential of waste management and recycling as a profitable business opportunity, rather than just a necessary environmental action. From plastic waste to food scraps, entrepreneurs and businesses around the world are finding innovative solutions to turn trash into treasure, creating economic value from what was once considered worthless.

L-R: Communications and Sustainable Business Lead, Unilever Nigeria, Godfrey Adejumoh; Chief Operating Officer, Wecyclers, Oluwayemisi Lawal; Managing Director, Unilever West Africa, Carl Cruz, and Chief Executive Officer, Wecyclers, Olawale Adebiyi during the Unilever Nigeria and Wecyclers Joint Press Conference to announce Unilever’s partnership to help social enterprise, Wecyclers, expand plastic waste collection in Nigeria, held in Lagos on Monday, April 17, 2023.

With trash fast becoming the new cash, forever gone are the days when waste management was considered the exclusive preserve of cart-pushing “abokis” and recycling were considered an insignificant activity in the global economy. Forever gone also are days when we “leave trash for LAWMA” (apologies to Olamide, the music star). With the growing awareness of environmental issues and the need to preserve the planet, waste management and recycling has become lucrative business globally. In Nigeria for instance, the plastic recycling market alone, stood at 2.04 million tonnes in 2020 and is forecast to reach 3.47 million tonnes by 2030, growing at a healthy CAGR of 4.82% until 2030. Rapid urbanization, industrialization, technological advancement, and change in consumption patterns have resulted in a huge amount of plastic waste.

Furthermore, increasing demand for packaging, electrical &electronics, automotive industries, etc. has increased the consumption of plastics in Nigeria. The per capita consumption of plastic in Nigeria grew by 4.81% in the 2010-2020 period, from 6.5kg in 2017. The growing need to reduce carbon footprint due to the excessive use of plastics has forced the government to come up with various initiatives supporting the plastic recycling market.

Nigeria, being one of the most populous countries in Africa, has also witnessed a surge in waste generation due to urbanization, industrialization, and population growth. As an emerging economy with a population of about two hundred million people, Nigeria generates quite a lot of waste. The Waste Management Society of Nigeria (WAMASON) estimates that nearly sixty-five million metric tonnes of waste are generated in the country per annum. This has often caused a waste management crisis, especially in most urban centres where authorities struggle to efficiently dispose of trash.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that most Nigerians typically regard waste as completely useless, there exist some business-savvy entrepreneurs who have recognized the immense potential in waste management and have taken steps towards harnessing it.

In Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, waste management is a big business. With a population of over 20 million people, the city generates about 13,000 tons of waste daily, which creates a huge opportunity for waste management and recycling companies to thrive. These companies provide services such as waste collection, transportation, and disposal, as well as recycling and waste-to-energy solutions.

To put this in better perspective, last week, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report for 2022. The report showed that the economy grew by 3.1% year-on-year in real terms, a slow growth compared to the 3.4% recorded in the previous year. According to the report, the non-oil sector accounted for 94.33% of the aggregate GDP while the oil sector represented 5.64% of the economy. Contributing to this growth is the waste management sector, which involves water supply, waste management, and sewage. It grew by 13.6% in 2022, representing the third fastest-growing sector in the year. Compared to the previous year, the sector slowed down in terms of growth rate from 18.3%, where it occupied a surprise second position of the fastest-growing sector.

Fortunately, in recent years, there has been a growing interest in waste management and recycling in Nigeria, with several entrepreneurs and startups exploring innovative solutions to tackle the country’s waste management challenges. One such company is the hitherto mentioned WeCyclers, a Lagos-based startup that collects waste from households and turns it into raw materials for local manufacturers. The company has created jobs, reduced waste, and contributed to sustainable development in Nigeria.


Another company making a significant impact in the waste management and recycling industry in Nigeria is Chanja Datti, which specializes in recycling plastic waste. The company collects plastic waste from across the country and converts it into raw materials for the manufacturing industry.

Also, some private investors are taking advantage. A few years ago, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) granted a whopping loan of $39 million to Engee PET Manufacturing Company Nigeria for the construction of a continuous polymerisation PET resin plant in Ogun State. In June 2020, Kenya banned the use of single-use plastics in protected natural areas – such as national parks, beaches, and forests. In response, Gjenge Makers, a company that started out collecting plastic waste to sell to recyclers began environmentally friendly bricks and paving stones. It sells grey pavers for around #4,000 per square meter, while coloured pavers sell for around #5,000. These are just a few examples from the many in this market.

The Nigerian government has also recognized the importance of waste management and recycling and has introduced policies to encourage their growth. For example, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) has implemented regulations for the collection, transportation, and disposal of waste in the country. The agency has also established guidelines for the operation of recycling plants and waste-to-energy projects.


As the waste management and recycling industry continues to evolve, entrepreneurs and businesses in Nigeria and around the world must leverage innovative solutions to tackle the waste management challenges and maximize the opportunities presented by this sector. The words of American author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, ring true, “Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it real.”

The lucrative world of rubbish remains a veritable avenue for transforming waste into wealth. With creativity, innovation, and a commitment to sustainability, it is possible to turn what was once considered useless into valuable resources. As an African proverb wisely reminds us, “The wealth of a community lies in its waste,” and by harnessing the potential of our rubbish, we can create a brighter future for ourselves and generations to come. Let us take action to reduce waste, recycle, and upcycle, and unlock the vast potential of our discarded materials. Together, we can build a more prosperous and sustainable world.

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