How Nigeria Can Make Money from Waste

November 26, 2019. 

Waste management has become a huge issue in Nigeria. At a conference, experts from Nigeria and the Netherlands converged on the Dutch Consulate in Lagos to proffer solutions. They also talked over waste management as a catalyst for creating a circular economy, OYEBOLA OWOLABI reports

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There is money to make from proper waste management. Plenty of it, if only Nigeria can go the Dutch way, say experts.

Ginna Crochets IMG-20190728-WA0000

The Chief Executive Officer of Holland Circular Hotspot (HCH), Freek Van Ejik, believes the country can reap the benefits if it extends waste collection service to 100 per cent of the population, creates awareness and change citizens’ attitude to waste, closes dumpsites and builds sanitary landfills.

The Dutch example

The Netherlands is a small country in terms of landmass. It is 22 times smaller than Nigeria. But the country is very neat because it is well advanced in waste management. It deploys technology in the management of waste as it practices 80 per cent recycling, 17 per cent incineration and recuperation of energy content of waste, and only three per cent waste is landfilled.

The Netherlands is an urban society as well as an agricultural superpower which has enabled it to solve its environmental issues. However, the limitedness in its space and natural resources compelled it to find local and scalable solutions to close the resource cycles.

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One of the ways it closed the resource cycles was the creation of a circular economy through waste management.

The capital city, Amsterdam, is analogous to Lagos in many facets- (population – about 5,000 people per square metre); confined space but big city; wet and densely populated areas-these similarities make their waste challenges comparable.


Mindful of the similarities and challenges, the Netherlands has proposed to partner Nigeria on waste management and the circular economy.


To fight the menace in Nigeria; using Lagos as a pilot, experts from both countries converged on the Dutch Consulate in Lagos to proffer solutions. They also talked over waste management as a catalyst for creating a circular economy.


In Holland, about six billion kilograms of waste is produced every year. Out of this, 8.5 billion kilos are household wastes. Others fall under the commercial, industrial and other categories of wastes.

As a result of this, the country created a waste collection system which ensured that waste did not end up as waste, but converted into wealth. In terms conversion of garbage to wealth, the Dutch believe that the end of life of a product marks the beginning of another.

The country in 1979 created a waste hierarchy. The hierarchy has disposal at the lowest rung of the pyramid, followed by energy recovery, recycling, re-use, minimisation and prevention at the topmost. It also introduced the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR); minimum standards; landfill and incineration taxes/landfill bans as well as a separate collection of waste streams.

To ensure the efficiency of these methods, the country ensured an adequate planning system; a municipal waste tax that covers all costs; co-operation between government authorities; involved waste management industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It also ensured consensus on data, monitoring and enforcement systems. The outcome of this is that just two to three per cent of waste is landfilled; 81 per cent is recycled and 17 per cent becomes Waste to Energy (WtE).

Currently, Holland produces 7.7 million tons of energy from its waste plants, 4,000 GWh of electricity, 14 PJ of heat, 18 per cent of renewable energy (R1 EU status) and 25 per cent capacity is used for imported waste (mainly from the United Kingdom).

Extended producer responsibility (EPR)

The EPR system focuses on the polluter-pays principle. Its primary objective is to achieve efficiency in the production process and the final product. With EPR, the product design is improved upon to achieve a high utilisation rate (repair and resell), and then the producer collects waste, treats it, re-uses and eventually recycles. This process prevents unnecessary pollution of the environment.

 Circular economy

According to Ejik, the circular economy is a system change; another way of designing, producing, using products and dealing with waste.

Holland did not achieve its dream of becoming one of the world’s cleanest cities in a jiffy. The dream was realised through a consistent and committed plan and implementation.

According to Ejik, the environment forced people to become collaborative and innovative. “The country’s water management created a collaborative DNA; its low groundwater table, urbanised society, and being an agricultural superpower compelled it to solve environmental issues early enough. The essence of creating a circular economy is to get more value and revenue from products, incur less risk and costs,” Ejik said.

For Holland, the journey to a circular economy began with waste management. The country was committed to its waste management policies and markets. Beginning from 1875, Holland created a process which allowed it move from public health (collection) to environmental protection (control and technical); to resource management (integrated waste policy system) and preservation of prosperity in 2016 (circular economy), which is basically about waste prevention.

The county also created the conditions for change by choosing the right interventions, which included evolving legislation and regulations, intelligent market incentives, financing and behavioural change, among others. The Dutch’s target is to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050 and a 50 per cent reduction in the use of raw materials by 2030.

Ejik reiterated that for the circular economy to thrive, businesses must be involved from the start. “Entrepreneurs (big and small) are the main actors of a transition to a circular economy,” he said. The CEO, however, noted that entrepreneurs cannot do it alone, and so urged the local governments to set the urgency, set boundary conditions and allow for experimentation. “Knowledge institutes on their capacity should develop new insights, enable vaporisation of their knowledge and create awareness. The new generation, the leaders and consumers of tomorrow should also be involved as their contribution is crucial,” he added.

Lessons for Nigeria

Ejik proposed the short term, mid-term and long-term goals for Nigeria to manage its waste, achieve a circular economy and sustainable environment. The short-term goals include: extending waste collection service to 100 per cent of the population; creation of awareness and change citizens’ attitude to waste; close dumpsites, build sanitary landfills, charge a fee which covers the total cost.

For the mid-term goals, Ejik proposed separating organic wastes from others and treat them (composting, anaerobic digestion); a collection of dry recyclables (co-mingled and glass separate); introduction of fee system to cover the cost; introduction of a monitoring system and diversion from landfilling.

The long-term goals he proposed included planning and licencing Waste to Energy (WtE) capacity only for non-recyclable wastes; ensuring stringent environmental standards for all operations and products; introduction of the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) for recyclable products and moving to a circular economy.

Ejik also identified the role of government in the transition to a circular economy to include strengthening networks (independent party connecting sustainable innovators; eliminating legal and regulatory barriers (issuing licenses, amending laws and giving room for experiments); and supporting the market (procurement, certification).

For cities to accelerate circularity, Ejik proposed the following: provide a platform to showcase best practices in the city; discover the circular potential of the city and set priorities and ambitions; involve businesses from the start and give room for experimentation.

Other incentives towards attaining circularity include an understanding of the barriers to circularity and addressing the same; facilitating interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaborations and introducing mainstream circular thinking into all education and training, among others.

He added: “Waste management is not the circular economy; it’s the last part of it, but it can be a catalyst for a fully circular economy. We see a circular economy, beginning with waste management, as a business opportunity. It is an opportunity first and business second; it is a tremendous sustainable spinoff. We should not look at something as waste but as something with value, which is more than a waste.

“If you give a second, third and fourth life to your telephone, that means with the same amount of materials you get far more value. It’s about more margins on the same amount of materials; about collaborating in a value chain. It always begins with one thing – cost-cutting (fewer materials, less energy, less water, fewer costs, and a story of hope with sustainable spinoff).

“We live in open time, a very digital age where business, as usual, is not an option. The consumers in many western countries look for guilt-free consumption – when they buy anything, they want to be sure there is no child-labour involved, there is quality, and it will cause no damage to the environment. This is the same mind-set that Nigerians should have – ensuring that our consumption lifestyle does not damage the environment.”

The Chief Executive of MetaSus, a sustainable solutions firm, Bert Keesman, expressed his hope that Nigeria can solve its waste problem if Holland could.

He said: “During our week here, we were focused on Lagos and we found that the population of Lagos and Amsterdam is similar (about 5,000 people per square kilometre), which is enormous. The challenges are quite similar-having to manage waste in a confined space but a big city. In a big city, economies of scale are very important to make waste management cost-efficient and there are opportunities to do it well.”

The convener of the symposium Sade Nubi, an engineer, said the session was organised in order to bring stakeholders together to proffer ways of partnership with the Netherlands, seek better waste management for Nigeria, beginning with Lagos, and then booster the transition to a circular economy. Nubi was optimistic that Nigeria’s waste problem will be surmounted if the Dutch example could be adopted, implemented and practised to the core.

She said: “I am sure Nigeria and Nigerians are open to the partnership. We need help, knowledge and technology transfer. So, this is a good opportunity for us to have a good combination of that. We will collate information after this brainstorming session and see how to reach back to the people on the ideas that have been proposed. We will see how to liaise with individuals to see how beneficial the suggestions are given will be to Lagos, especially as a flagship state.”

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