/ 14 October 2022

Nigeria: E-waste never dies, but can be upcycled

Nigeriaelectronicwaste Gettyimages 536200438
A Nigerian engineering company is refurbishing old gadgets into affordable appliances, creating a new market for recycled and upcycled products

It was the first day of the much-anticipated Egoras Trade Fair in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria. The company had announced it would sell its refurbished electronic appliances at discounts — as much as 70%. 

At different corners of the mini-football field, the items were on display. The company printed 1 500 tickets for the event. There was one problem: more than 5 000 people showed up.

Bright Uzoma was among the shoppers. After enduring a long queue at the pay point, he bought a washing machine and blender.

One month on, he says both products are still in good condition.

Egoras’s products are not considered second-hand. They come with a warranty of up to one year. 

“Products we classify as grade A are as good as new items,” said Harry Ugoji, the company’s founder.

Egoras came into operation in 2020. Its first trade fair was a small-scale event, held in the founder’s home, and only had a handful of refurbished items for sale.

Now the company has three showrooms and a factory — with a production capacity of 100 000 refurbished items per year. 

Nigeria produces 1.1-million tonnes of e-waste annually, with a significant amount going into landfills, contaminating the soil with toxins, including carcinogenic metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and nickel.

This is not just a Nigerian problem. Of the 53.6-million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) produced globally in 2019, only 17.4% was properly recycled. More than half was shipped to developing countries as second-hand items — worsening those countries’ e-waste situations.

Despite this, environmental laws in many developing countries are limited and poorly implemented. In 2016, Nigeria launched an extended producer responsibility programme to reduce e-waste and facilitate the country’s transition from a linear to a circular economy. 

In a study, sustainability specialist Kunlere Idowu stated that “robust public participation” is key to implementing these policies. Nigerians have so far displayed apathy towards the policy. That attitude is fuelled by poor awareness of the benefits: it does not help that the key players in the country’s circular economy are relatively unknown.

To escape obscurity, Egoras has taken to social media, engaged influencers and built community trade shows and strategic partnerships to educate the public about its activities. It has also benefited from word-of-mouth marketing by customers such as Uzoma, who convinced several colleagues to buy from it.

Egoras’ business model involves buying unwanted appliances and transforming them into valuable items sold at a significant discount.

At the factory, engineers evaluate them to ensure they are suitable for reuse. They are then grouped in decreasing order of functionality — from grades A to E. Grade A items have minimal faults and are purchased at about 85% of the original price; in contrast, grade E items are scrap metals.

“If we receive a fridge, we check for the viability of the condenser and lagging (insulating) material as they are the essential parts,” Ugoji said.

Electronic items that are beyond repair are sent for further recycling. 

“We send them to a research institute in Enugu that produces machine parts and uses these solid wastes as raw materials,” Ugoji explained.

The institute remoulds the waste and occasionally, Egoras buys back items at reduced prices. 

“In the future, we look to having our [own] recycling unit to bring down the cost of production further,” Ugoji added.

Egoras commissions agents to go door to door, collecting electronic waste in large quantities. These agents are scattered across the southern and southeast regions of the country. An on-air system is used to encourage trust and build security.

“In our radio adverts, we announce these agents’ numbers on air for the different locations,” he said.

The company’s primary focus is to widen its customer base and scale up production to 1 000 000 refurbished electronic items every quarter. This looks promising as the company nears the completion of its second factory with a 5 000-person capacity.

True to its commitment to a sustainable environment, Egoras switched to LPG-powered generators in its factory. In Nigeria, liquefied petroleum gas has long been promoted as a better energy alternative because it emits less carbon than the popularly used petrol.

Widespread adoption of LPG also plays an important role in mitigating gas flaring in Nigeria — the second-largest environmental pollutant in Nigeria’s oil-producing states, after oil spills.

Egoras has developed a formal framework that enables the participation of skilled professionals from the informal waste recycling sector, which is Nigeria’s dominant sector in waste management.

When the new factory is finally completed, Ugoji believes that they will be able to provide more jobs to engineers and technicians. — bird story agency