Wellbeing

Plastic Waste for Cash: Coca-Cola’s RESWAYE Aids Low-Income Communities

By Olabisi Salau

As the new coronavirus pandemic hit almost every state in Nigeria, one of its ripple effects is the drastic increase in the use of plastic bottles, takeout containers, hand sanitizer containers and other products central to the new way of life. There is hence a new environmental normal translating into a greater waste management burden. But this burden also presents an opportunity to deepen the culture of recycling of waste products.

The Coca-Cola Foundation has initiated the RESWAYE (Recycling Scheme for Women and Youth Empowerment) project to rid the environment of the burgeoning pile of plastic waste by enlisting women and young people in a plastic buy-back scheme across 16 coastal communities in Ibeju Lekki. The beneficiaries are paid by Coca-Cola when they pick up and deliver plastic waste to the Reswaye project. The project will bring significant economic relief to these communities which have been hit hard by the economic consequences of the new coronavirus pandemic. Sebidat Sam, the Women Leader for the Okun Ise, Ibeju-Lekki community said about RESWAYE, “Na good thing, with this we clean the environment and also collect money to take care of our family”. 

Many of the Ibeju-Lekki women have lost the menial jobs they had in middle class homes as people restrict contact with non-family members. According to the World Bank, the wave of unemployment unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic is affecting women disproportionately as the “jobs in which women tend to dominate [fashion, hospitality, retail, restaurant], have witnessed millions of job losses around the world.”

Coca-Cola Foundation is partnering with the Mental and Environment Development Initiative for Children (MEDIC) to implement RESWAYE. MEDIC works to build a sustainable environment and oceans through improved education and job creation. The organization is particularly focused on working with women and youths along the along the Atlantic coast of Lagos to reduce plastic pollution through collection and recycling. MEDIC believes this makes for more resilient communities.

Speaking on behalf of The Coca-Cola Foundation, Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability Manager, Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, Mr. Nwamaka Onyemelukwe said, “By partnering with NGOs such as MEDIC, Coca-Cola, we aim to develop an effective recycling system that meets the unique needs of local communities, making recycling more accessible for everyone while also encouraging the economic empowerment of women and youths“.

Coca‑Cola’s “World Without Waste” vision fosters collaboration with multiple stakeholders, including partners, governments and civil society organisations like MEDIC, with the aim of fostering “continued leadership” in the area of reducing the waste let into the environment through product packaging. Coca-Cola aims to work with communities all over the world to help them collect the same amount of packaging it sells for reuse by the end of 2030. According to Nwamaka, Coca-Cola works with communities everywhere to better understand their recycling and collection challenges while stimulating a recycling culture amongst residents.

Mrs. Doyinsola Ogunye, the founder of MEDIC, made it known during a RESWAYE outreach that the plastic buy-back project has been embraced with “considerable joy” in because of the opportunity it has given people in the low-income communities in the axis Ibeju Lekki to earn an income while doing something useful around their environment. Ogunye further noted that “seeing our network of women and youth recyclers protect the shorelines and coastlines of Lagos state as they gather plastic waste has been deeply fulfilling. Economically empowering the women and youths during these turbulent times as they continue to preserve the environment is paramount.

The RESWAYE project also featured education campaigns, basic financial literacy and account opening exercises for community members conducted. With children and youths out of school due to closures mandated by the Federal government in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, the education drive provides out-of-school children with books and stationery to facilitate the continuation of learning.

Through a partnership with the Fola David Foundation, the RESWAYE project created awareness on the importance of good hand hygiene through practical demonstration of best hand washing practices to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Residents of the communities were given face masks and mosquito nets. Karim Aishat, a beneficiary of the outreach said that her deep fear of the coronavirus has been replaced by knowledge about how to keep her family, herself and her community safe from infection as a result of the RESWAYE outreach.

Coca‑Cola’s “World Without Waste” is helping to tackle a big environmental problem. Eight million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. This is equivalent to a truckload of plastic being dumped into the ocean every minute. The waste washes up on the shores of coastal communities, an eyesore that makes life unpleasant while also reducing the opportunity to make money from tourists visiting the beaches. Plastic waste also reduces economic opportunity when fishes and other aquatic animals swallow and choke on them. Through the RESWAYE initiative, Coca-Cola buys back recyclable materials from women and youths to encourage a cleaner, more sustainable environment. The 16 participating communities in Ibeju-Lekki have collected a total of over 72,000 kilogrammes of recyclable plastic waste materials across Eti-Osa and Ibeju-Lekki communities in Lagos state.

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