Bilikiss Adebiyi on Waste & Wellbeing : bWW Essays
As part of our #WasteDialog around the 2016 Global Dialogue On Waste, we asked visionaries and leaders in waste reform about how proper waste management can improve public health and well-being. Here is the response from Bilikiss Adebiyi, CEO & Co-founder of Wecyclers, a start-up which uses bicycles to pick up recyclables from household owners, who then receive points to buy food, appliances or cell phone minutes.
How will good waste management improve well-being?
Good waste management entails proper disposal of all waste material through recycling, composting, combusting and other waste management techniques. Improperly managed waste adversely affects neighborhoods by clogging drainages and littering communities. Stagnant water breeds mosquitos and other pests and leads to outbreaks of malaria, cholera and other diseases. During rains, these areas flood and significantly reduce productivity. Improper waste management adversely affects low-income communities. In my opinion, it perpetuates their poverty and keeps them stuck in a vicious cycle. One of the benefits of waste management that cannot be directly measured is its impact on well-being. Apart from the absence of pollution–which positively impacts health and well-being directly–cleaner communities tend to have happier, more relaxed people who take pride in their communities.
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Improper waste management can have far-reaching negative impact, which go beyond immediate negative externalities and can significantly impact the frame of mind of people inhabiting those areas. About 5 years ago, during the initial research for Wecyclers, we carried out a recycling awareness day in a community in Lagos. Residents of the surrounding areas were invited to participate in the event. We held a raffle where residents brought their recyclable waste in exchange for a raffle ticket. The prizes included a camera and some other small electronics. During the event, we held a focus group where we asked young people how they felt when they thought about waste. One of them, a young boy not more than 10, said he felt sad because grownups in his compound regularly fought about indiscriminate waste dumping.
What could be good strategies to get there?
The best strategies take the local context and mode of operation into consideration. The best strategies promote inclusion and ensure that all players are active participants in the process. Wecyclers carried out a careful mapping of the operating environment and came up with a simple, low-cost and context-specific solution to solve the problem. We also saw that people in the communities we planned to service needed some kind of incentive to take time out of their busy schedules to sort waste for recycling. These incentives formed our points system, which helped get the conversation started. After a while, households that initially joined the Wecyclers system just for points started to see the positive impacts in their neighborhoods. These impacts kept them committed to the program even beyond the points.
Featured Image: A representational image of a healthy community