Abuja, Nigeria: Earlier in the year, I wrote an article about e-waste in Nigeria (you can read that here).
Since then, I have paid more attention to the issue of waste in Nigeria. Along with this attention has come a curiosity about the lives of Nigerians as it relates to their waste and generally things that they no longer use.
Pushed by my curiosity, I started my “research” with myself. I walked through my house and realized that I had many things that I did not need anymore and probably would never need again. These things ranged from stacks of reusable food containers to empty bottles of wine. Despite the knowledge that I would not need them in the future, I still had not thrown them away.
In my box (I don’t have a closet as yet), there were clothes I hadn’t worn in a year or two but were still nestled in my box.
Mounted on my DIY table in my living room is a beautiful 20-40-year-old electric typewriter which I had taken from my father, who himself had bought it 15 years earlier. He had never used it, had never even opened its case. But at the same time, he had never thrown it away.
You see, we have this habit of holding on to things we use, or we like, or might even need one day, and we typically abhor waste. This may stem from financial insecurity; that is holding on to things in the fear that if you throw them away, you may need them one day and would not have money to buy another one.
This feeling of not being able to easily throw away things and buy new ones has not made us any less happy. The average Nigerian still wants to be as rich as the next man and buy whatever he needs. However, the fact that he isn’t able to do that does not make him any less fulfilled. I guess this is a testimony to the fact that it is possible to live above the influences of the materialistic marketing machine of manufacturers.
Since I had successfully “analyzed” myself and come to the conclusion that I don’t throw away stuff, it was time to extend my curiosity. I visited a dumpsite in my home state of Owerri in Southeastern Nigeria. I went with a friend who had worked in a plastic recycling company in the city.
At the site, we saw heaps of well-arranged plastic bottles, wine bottles, aluminium soda cans and other recyclable materials. On inquiry, a man said he owned some of the heaps and explained that people scavenged for the materials from the trucks that made their way to the dump. Then they would sort through all they had gathered and arranged them in heaps. Afterwards, they sold them to recycling companies, like the one my friend had worked with, who in turn used them to make cellophane shopping bags.
When I asked how profitable the business was, he smiled broadly and said it was very profitable as demand from the company was very high. Unfortunately, they could not meet the demands of the companies as not enough plastic was brought to the dumps. My friend confirmed this, saying that there were times they had to suspend production so as to wait to gather enough plastic from all the dumps in the state so as to have a sizable quantity for production.
I was shocked. While the rest of the world was battling with too much waste, the recycling companies here did not have enough to recycle. This reminded me of a childhood practice where the scavengers would go from marketplace to community with gifts. When people brought their waste materials, the scavengers gave them gifts in return. For instance, when we wanted a soccer ball, we went around the houses collecting wine bottles and storing them, waiting for the day the scavenger would come around. This is perhaps the earliest version of the reward system employed by recycling startups and plants these days.
When I got back to Abuja, I decided to empty my box. I packed up all the clothes I had not worn in the preceding six months. They filled a huge shopping bag. I called Nasiru a nomadic tailor who normally helped with making amendments to my clothes. After about ten minutes of repetitions and hand gestures, because he spoke no English, he finally understood that I was giving him the clothes, not to mend, but as gifts. His face lit up and he started grinning from ear to ear. While repeating “thank you, barrister, thank you barrister”, he stuffed the clothes into a sack.
Nasiru like millions of Nigerians has never heard of “fast fashion” and that’s okay.
Myself, like millions of Nigerians, don’t throw stuff away, and you know what, that’s ok too. I think the earth would agree.
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