How NNPC/TotalEnergies plastic recycling plant is tackling environmental pollution, creating jobs others, in Niger Delta
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) report, Nigeria generates over 32 million tonnes of solid waste annually with plastic accounting for 2.5 million tonnes but only 20 to 30 percent are collected and recycled.
The country is also among the top 20 nations that contribute 83 percent of the total volume of land-based plastic waste that ends up in the oceans, while the World Bank reports noted that an average person in Nigeria uses up to 500 plastic bags/bottles per year.
To mitigate the environmental hazards of the indiscriminate disposal of the wastes, a recycling plant by TotalEnergies EP JV commissioned a year ago at Elelenwo in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State has recycled several tons of waste into high quality resins.
A tour of the plant shows that the production goes through various stages before it comes out. During the tour, it was observed that there is the collection stage where the used plastics are collected. This is followed by the sorting out stage where the materials are sorted according to specifics. Then it is moved into the technology unit where the plastic wastes are crushed, washed, and then regenerated into pellet resins with a heated extrusion machine that kills bacteria and purifies the material, before the pellets are moved to the final stage of production where the materials are converted to into high quality articles such as buckets, plastic chairs, cups, spoons, plates, bags, etc. These processes, no doubt have created jobs for people in the Niger Delta Region because each stage involves people.
Inquiries by The Guardian revealed that the recycling plant has exceeded its first-year targets while ramping up production towards 1,000 tons of plastics per annum, indicating that over 750 tonnes of CO2 emission can be saved per year which is equivalent to planting over 4,500 trees per year.
The Guardian also gathered that within the one year of operations, the project has employed about 40 full time direct labour as against 15 persons projected within the period including over 80 indirect employments. It is also supplying products to feed other plants that are into manufacturing.
Indeed, the initiative of converting ‘waste to wealth is adding value as many are making brisk business from the venture.
While driving through the Port Harcourt Metropolis and some parts in the Local Government Areas, the reporter sighted some residents scavenging for plastics, while others were seen at various event centres, weddings, burial ceremonies etc. picking available plastic wastes.
A 26-year-old school dropout who simply gave his name as Nasil Ahmed, said he could not further his education due to financial challenges but disclosed that he was elated to discover that without waiting for government’s assistance, one could earn a good living via waste products. He narrated that through the waste plastic business, he pays his house rent of N100, 000 per annum with ease. He is married with children and now plans to return to school.
Similarly, 45-year-old Hamza Abdulkarem, a former security guard who lives in Mgbuoba axis in Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of the State is one of the beneficiaries of the ‘waste to wealth’ opportunities offered by the recycling plant. Desperate to feed his family and ensure his children attend school after losing his job during the COVID 19 pandemic, he opted to picking plastic bottles from the streets to sell. He said a friend introduced him to the waste business from which he made N1,000 daily at the beginning but subsequently, earns between N4,000 to N5,000 daily from sales of plastic bottles.
Also, 65-year-old Mrs. Christian Inya, a petty trader who was evicted from her house after the death of her husband was unable to feed herself and her three children after the COVID-19 shutdowns which drained her business capital. Inya who now lives in a make-shift house around the Igwurita axis in Ikwere Local Government Area of the State said, she is surviving through the selling of plastics.
Many stories abound of people whose lives have been revived through picking of plastic wastes or working in the recycling plant. The Executive Executive Director, JV Assets, TotalEnergies EP Nigeria Limited, Mr. Obi Imemba in an interview with The Guardian, said, the company’s recycling plant remains a sustainable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC/Total Energies EP Nigeria Limited in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITATR).
“In our refining & chemical business, we have an objective to ensure that a lot of our filed stock are coming from recycled product. But for this particular project it is not a business venture. It is a CSR initiative with a difference because in the conventional CSR you install a plant for people and you leave them to manage it, however in this instance, an arm of United Nations that specializes in training globally, (UNITAR) is involved.
“The support is for the entrepreneur and the people that are being employed to train them and give them the competencies that are required to be able to operate the plant on a sustainable basis. We have also provided what we call the OPEX (Operating Expenditure) that can last the entrepreneur at least the first one year of operations,” Imemba explained.
Meeting SDG Goals
Goal 1 of the sustainable development goals, SDGs talks about eradication of extreme poverty, hunger, and protection. Also, The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS in its 2022 National Multidimensional Poverty Index Report within the year, showed that 133 million Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. Interestingly the recycling plant according to the Executive Director, JV Assets, TotalEnergies has ticked several boxes under the SDGs.
He said, the box of poverty eradication has been ticked following sustained job creation, adding that the gender equality box under the SDG is also ticked as more women are employed in the plant.
“The SDG box for responsible production and consumption ticked because we ensure that our production and consumption do not constitute nuisance to the environment. So, we are able to recover those plastics and convert them to better use. The box of partnership is also ticked because we have several partners working on this project. We have our partners NNPC, United Nations Institute for Training And Research (UNITAR), some partners from China that provided the equipment, even the communities. There is also the box of climate ticked because in trying to recover these plastics, you are preserving marine life, plant, and animal lives. There are several boxes of SDGs that have been ticked and we believe that the project in itself is a demonstration of our commitment to the sustainable development goals”.
According to him, the firm is concerned about challenges of carbon emissions associated with the conventional fossil fuel productions.
“Our goal is to provide more energies with less emissions. There is need for more energies in the planet because population is growing. There is industrialization, development, need to produce more energy and also need to reduce the carbon emissions associated with producing more energies. So, in order to be a responsible firm globally we decided to integrate climate as a sustainability ambition, into our strategy”.
“What we do is to recover plastic wastes and converting them into commercial purpose. We are changing the narratives, creating what we call circularity. Circularity is about changing from the linear approach of using plastics or materials on a one-off basis, to reusing them over and over, thereby helping preserve mining and the production of new materials “.
While highlighting the challenges faced by the company in getting the plant running which includes bureaucratic bottle necks, navigating through policies within the company with third party agencies, and importing equipment during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Imemba disclosed that the next focus is to replicate the projects in different states in the country
“Since this one is a successful venture and the model itself is self -sustaining, we don’t need to be servicing that plant on a day-to-day basis. We have therefore, provided a start- up capital for the venture and the idea is that within some years, we should be able to refund certain percentage of the capital on annual basis and that will be used to start other plants.
“We do top-up to start a new plant from the initial capital, it also makes the entrepreneur responsible, as he will be conscious that the project is not a gift, not free. He knows he should be accountable. That is why we call it a network- (Total Energies UNITAR Recycling plant (TURN) Network.
This network will grow and stand,” he affirmed.
The TotalEnergies Executive Director further disclosed that the firm is about starting another plant in Obagi in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of the State because the model has proven to be sustainable and reducing the quantity of plastics in the environment.
Asked if the firm is keying into the objective of eradicating waste in Nigeria in few years to come, he said “we support the objectives of no more plastic wastes in Nigeria in the next ten years and we hope that what we are doing will be an encouragement and motivation to other entities to come on board.”
“There is a whole lot of plastics littered all over the country. So, we need to replicate this in many more cities and regions of the country. The menace is real, and the solution is also there. We can achieve the objective. It requires a lot of efforts, partnership by private entities, organizations, government, media, and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Everybody is welcome”
Environmentalist/ Medical Expert Speak
An Environmentalist and Country Director of Natural Justice. Mike Karikpo told The Guardian that recycling of plastic waste is in line with the ongoing universal movement which emphasizes the need to tackle the rising global warming and climate crisis. He urged companies, organizations, and individuals to key into the movement.
Also speaking, a medical expert, Dr. Dasetima Altraide, a Dermatologist at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, (UPTH), said recycling of waste will improve the health standard of the people and reduce environmental hazards.
“The plastics breed mosquitoes once water gathers inside them when they are thrown away but if they are picked and recycled, the mosquitoes will likely be eliminated and consequently, the health standards of the people will improve” He said. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) representative on the TotalEnergies’s Recycling Plant project, Mrs. Ihuoma Njemanze, described it as apt and in line with what is happening in the world.
“We are promoting circularity. The UN tries to promote sustainability and useful consumption patterns. The UN’s involvement in this project is mainly to make sure that the SDGs are achieved. We are also into CO2 Emission reduction. So, the presence of the UN on this project shows that it is unique,” she explained.
For Leo Nwofa, Project Lead for the plastic recycling plant and the technical partner representing TotalEnergies, the plant is addressing the issue of resource management, reducing CO2 emissions, and consequently tackling climate change, which is in line with the UN SDG 13, that stipulates action for climate change.
Godspower Nwachukwu, the General Manager, Community Affairs, Projects, and Development, TotalEnergies said, “This is a pilot project aimed at reducing plastic wastes in the environment and also improving the environment, achieving our CSR goals to our host communities. Speaking further, the Plant Manager, Mr. Emeka Onyeka, noted that so much progress has been made since the plant was commissioned, adding that the employees and community people are happy.
One of the employees, Marvis Ogbokiri who works at the operations department, expressed joy that she has a meaningful life as the project has transformed her life from joblessness to gainful employment.
Meanwhile, according to the United Nations Comtrade Data, some world top plastic waste exporters who trade in plastic waste include Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, Belgium. France, Italy, among others.
Unarguably, converting wastes into domestic and commercially exportable products can boost the country’s foreign reserve and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is, therefore, expedient for government to encourage the paradigm shift and key into the plastics recycling initiatives to stimulate economic growth.