Waste disposal has always been a challenge in many countries. But one Ghanaian, Jackson Nyarko, is on a mission to change the situation in his home country through his recycling venture – EcoCare Waste Initiative.
As a conservation biologist, he first threw his hat in the ring of waste management when he entered his idea in the Switch Africa Green – SEED Awards in 2016, a startups incubator.
From an idea, today it has grown into an organisation, having partnered with his friend Frank Yeboah (then a Credit Officer at a bank).
Taking note of poor sanitation in most neighborhoods in Accra, the duo set out to establish EcoCare Waste Initiative to turn the tide on poor waste management.
I caught up with Jackson to shed light on his venture. Here are the excerpts:
What is EcoCare all about?
EcoCare Waste is a low-tech recycling company with the mission of challenging Ghanaians wasteful paradigm and throw-away culture by giving value to waste while advocating against waste generation through use of alternatives. The company aims at solving Ghana’s waste handling challenge through innovative waste management approach.
What drove you into the field of sustainability?
The fact that improper waste disposal has been a major cause for most environmental health problems, killer diseases (like cholera) and even devastating disasters like flooding inspired me to this sector. We’ve been experiencing accelerated environmental degradation, pressure on landfills as well as deforestation through indiscriminate tree-cutting and land-clearing for construction.
Read also: E-Waste, the toxic good
Plastic waste is a headache, how is EcoCare going about ensuring proper management?
At EcoCare, we advocate for the plastic industry to become a more circular economy. We promote innovations and/or behaviors that will keep plastics – its production and consumption – almost across all its value chain; in a circular loop. Since we can’t completely cut off use of plastics in our daily lives, we have to reuse and recycle whatever is produced.
Consumer behaviour is at the core, an area that needs discipline, from the household level.
How is EcoCare’s promoting better plastics management?
In order to accomplish this daunting task, we have developed a five-module programme for our activities:
1.Research and Development (R&D): Since 2016 we have been studying how communities operate to better understand the major environmental issues they face, available actors and solutions. Our R& D informs the kinds of prototypes we design tailored along society needs.
2. Education & Awareness: We run environmental education programmes through social and institutional campaigns and school clubs to create more awareness on environmental sustainability.
3. Training & Empowerment: To be able to get more community people engaged in waste reduction, not only are we advocating them against wastes, we also run a small recycling hub in our garage. Here we train the youth and women on recycling. Through this we also recruit volunteers and activists for wider spread of our campaign message.
4. Waste Collection & EcoEvent CleanUp: We are able to teach and demonstrate the “how” and “importance” of waste segregation in communities when we engage in public and special events like cleanups.
5. Social Media: We use the internet and social media mostly to reach out to the elite citizens and youth especially; and we use digital inclusion (e.g. print and online media) to advocate against plastic pollution. We are pushing for the replacement of single use plastic carrier bags with sustainable alternatives.
What factors do you consider when coming up with a sustainability initiative or campaign?
As a company that seeks to make circular thinking the bedrock for environmental sustainability – the integral part of all our initiatives is that they must follow the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) business model of people, planet and profit. When reviewing the impact of our initiatives each must demonstrate a reasonable balance of the economic, social and environment aspects.
In other words, all our initiatives must positively impact people, planet and make profits.
What challenges has EcoCare faced in its waste management drive?
Knowledge and expertise gap stands out, so does a slow change in culture and funding gaps. We have a big vision – and sometimes getting resourceful people to implement the idea proves difficult.
Working on behavior change initiatives requires reinforcements from consistent advocacies. My co-founder and I had to quit our jobs to invest 100 percent of our time to build EcoCare, while the rest of team members contributed part-time.
Funding is also a great challenge. The paradox is that while everyone sees such social initiatives as EcoCare’s fight against humans’ wasteful paradigm, a good deed to humanity, it is not easy to attract investors and partners for scaling up. Usually, not everyone sees the potential impact of such initiatives in the short term. And it may not look lucrative.
What is your biggest concern about Africa’s ability or lack thereof to create a more sustainable world?
It’s not in doubt that the African continent is probably the world’s richest in mineral reserves as well as biodiversity. Therefore it could be a big catalyst for engineering a sustainable world. In my experience as a conservationist, I see a “sustainable world” to be one that can sustain harmonious co-existence of all life forms while maintaining a near perfect balance between production and consumption of the earth’s resources.
So with Africa having such rich resources probably more than anywhere else on the planet, then it serves as the bedrock for re-creating the sustainable world which we all want. It is either, we the custodians figure out how to wield the power on these riches we sit on, to help recreate that sustainable world, or we keep messing with it. And worse, allow others to grab and replant it in their own parts of the world.
What advice would you offer those seeking to create sustainable change?
Always think circular in designing your business. If you really had passion for it in the first place, then do whatever it takes to make that change happen. Now, this may sound unrealistic for a startup – but still go out there and give it a try.