In August, after months of market research, partnership development, fundraising, and planning, the Wecyclers team left Cambridge for Lagos, Nigeria. We want to improve urban environments in low-income areas by empowering communities to tackle the problem of unmanaged waste. Our solution is to offer convenient recycling services paired with a rewards program. We knew that seeing our program in action in Lagos would be a true test. We were ready to send collection bikes out into the community to collect materials and reward redeemable points. But we wondered, exactly how would households react to us. Would the excitement that we heard in early customer interviews translate into practice?
Our first day of collection was August 24th, 2012. To prepare for this day, we held a community recycling awareness day in partnership with the city government’s waste management agency, we did outreach in the neighborhoods, and we held mini-workshops to describe exactly how the collection program would work. We had signed up 107 interested households who agreed to start separating their recyclables for us. Still, on that first day, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We ended up collecting 32 kgs of plastic and aluminum from 16 different houses and the excitement we had hoped to find was clearly there. After all the talk, people were delighted to see that our collection bikes actually existed. And not only that, people were amazed to find that they did receive SMS texts with their rewards points within 24 hours after their recycling pick-up. We were starting to gain traction.
And our momentum has only grown since that first day. Everyday we sign-up new households and we’re collecting more material each week. Our average collection is now over 100kgs per day. We’ve hired three local staff members and we’re building trusted relationships in the communities where we work.
The most rewarding aspect of this work though, is seeing the true change in people’s perspectives and behavior around waste, especially among the youth. Parents have told us about how their kids are vigilant about separating out their recycling at home. One 12-year old boy always has his eye-out for recyclable materials, even in unlikely situations. One day, his family held a graduation party for him and after the formalities were finished, instead of dancing or chatting with his friends, he went around from table to table to collect the empty plastic bottles so that he could recycle them with Wecyclers. Another 8-year old girl has led her family to be one of the highest Wecyclers points earners in our network. Seeing that level of engagement motivates us to keep expanding our fleet of bikes so that we can continue to expand the households we serve.
By Alex Fallon with Wecyclers.