Student tackles hazardous waste in Nigeria

A Business Entrepreneurship student from Northampton is tackling hazardous waste by launching a social enterprise in Nigeria

Third year student Ben Thomson is a co-founder of Green Cycle, a social enterprise that is working to develop a formal approach to recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) in the city of Lagos, for the benefit of the environment and the health of Nigerian people.

Lagos, a densely populated city which is experiencing rapid economic growth, has had an influx of e-waste in recent years. The city has a large sea port which has allowed shipments of electronic equipment to enter the area, and whilst there is a huge appetite for second hand imported electronics, many of the loads are unusable and classified as e-waste.

Lagos currently has no facilities to allow the safe recycling of e-wastes, and no formal recycling practices. Informal recyclers burn e-waste in an attempt to extract copper wiring and steel from the electronics. Burning can have severe health implications as it releases dangerous toxins into the atmosphere; older televisions and monitors contain lead and phosphorous pentacholoride, printed circuit boards contain arsenic and cadmium, and fridges contain CFCs. Open dumping also takes place in the city which allows the leaching of heavy metals, including lead and mercury, into the soil and groundwater – which forms 50 per cent of the area’s drinking water.

Ben Thomson’s prior work experience in recycling and the skills gained during his degree studies inspired him to start Green Cycle with partners George Richards and Chris Richardson. Green Cycle aims to transform the environmental and social problems in Lagos into opportunities, by changing attitudes towards waste and bringing technology and social innovation into the recycling business model. The team aim to develop waste management as a sustainable industry for Nigeria.

Green Cycle are currently trialling education programmes and waste collection schemes in Lagos for both households and businesses, and are exploring the possibility of incentive-based recycling points. The company is looking to start a safe, state of the art processing facility, which will dismantle the electronics to extract high value metals – including copper, gold, silver and palladium – before recycling the other waste. The facility will employ local people, who will undertake informed training.

Ben explained his inspiration for Green Cycle: “Studying entrepreneurship at the University of Northampton has allowed me to develop the necessary skills and the confidence to strive for success as a young entrepreneur.

“Northampton is acknowledged as the UK Centre of Excellence for Waste Management, I have had the opportunity to develop relationships and learn from the highly experienced and acclaimed team at the University, particularly Professor Margaret Bates who has worked on tackling e-waste in Nigeria. Professor Bates has offered a unique perspective from her own experiences and has been a real asset to our project.”

The Green Cycle team have high hopes for the future. Co-founder George Richards commented:  “Our ambition with Green Cycle is to go beyond electronic waste and look to bring innovation and green technologies from developed waste industries to Nigeria. I believe that by doing this we can touch the lives of millions and help to raise environmental and public health awareness.” 

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