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Nigerian Entrepreneur, Ifedolapo Runsewe Transforms Old Car Tyres Into Upcycled Products

Nigerian Entrepreneur, Ifedolapo Runsewe has set up Freetown Waste Management Recycle, an industrial plant dedicated to transforming old car tyres into paving bricks, floor tiles and other goods that are in high demand in Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria.

In Nigeria, a country heavily reliant on revenues from its oil exports, entrepreneur Ifedolapo Runsewe has identified another type of black gold: used car tyres.

As an environmentally conscious Nigerian,  Ifedolapo Runsewe has always been interested in waste management and recycling in the country and around the world. While several recycling companies have focused on plastics, glass and paper recycling, very few companies were paying any attention to the millions of vehicle tyres that were improperly disposed of around the country.

Realising that over 10 million car tyres are discarded annually, she decided that her most impactful contribution to waste management in Nigeria would be to build competence in used tyre waste management and develop a world-class recycling company to help the country properly manage a significant chunk of this annual waste.

A worker offloads used car tyres from a cargo tricycle in preparation for recycling at the Freetown waste management recycle factory in Ibadan, Nigeria September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

“Creating something new from something that will otherwise be lying somewhere as waste was part of the motivation,” Runsewe told Reuters at her factory in the city of Ibadan in southwest Nigeria.

The Ibadan metropolis boasts a population  of around six million people and about 360,000 households own at least one vehicle based on data extracted from the National Bureau of Statistics.

The average household in Ibadan has about five people which means that up to 1.8 million people could be negatively impacted by improper disposal of the waste car tyres in their immediate environment.

Ifedayo mentioned to Vanguard, in an interview that ‘she assumes that four out of five homes in Ibadan are better able to dispose their tyres in a cleaner and more rewarding structure with her platform, meaning they are directly helping up to 1.5 million people in 360,000 homes enjoy a cleaner, fresher environment with the recycling work that they do.’

“All our business processes are driven by innovation and efficiency. Our unique innovation in the recycling industry is using waste tyres as a key raw material in the manufacturing process for tiles, mats, door stoppers, speed bumps, anti-shock pads amongst several other products.”

A worker offloads used car tyres from a cargo tricycle in preparation for recycling at the Freetown waste management recycle factory in Ibadan, Nigeria September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

She further concluded that her recycling company gets rid of the waste by transforming it into a variety of finished goods that can be used in households, offices and public areas. Most other recyclers simply clean up the waste product only to convert it back to its initial state or a very similar state without any meaningful value addition.

“We think differently, enabling us to convert the tyres into crumb rubber that can be used to produce a wide variety of goods with fantastic profit margins.”

“We are able to create an entire value chain around the tyres,” she said, holding a paving brick that is one of the company’s best-selling products.

Waste management in Nigeria is patchy at best. In villages, towns and cities, piles of waste are a common sight, and residents often burn them at night for lack of a safer method of disposal. Tyres are routinely dumped and abandoned.

Freetown relies on scavengers who collect old car tyres from dumping grounds. They are paid 70 to 100 naira ($0.17-$0.24) per tyre.

Some tyres are also supplied directly by mechanics, like Akeem Rasaq, who is delighted to have found a place where he can make some money from old tyres.

“Most of the tyres end up in public drainage clogging up the drain, but things have changed,” he said at his roadside workshop.

Freetown started operations in 2020 with just four employees, and growth has been so rapid the workforce has jumped to 128. So far, more than 100,000 tyres have been recycled into everything from speed bumps to soft paving for playgrounds.

“It is important to support anybody that recycles in our country,” said Houssam Azem, founder of the Lagos Jet Ski Riders Club, which has purchased paving bricks from Freetown for a children’s play area.

“Taking tyres, which is an environmental nuisance, and turning them into what children can play on, I think it is a win-win for everybody.”

Today, the outfit employs over 100 people full-time who recycle over 150,000 waste tyres annually, transforming to rubber mats, tiles, speed bumps and other rubber accessories. They also employ over 150 people indirectly who work as agents in aggregating car tyres.

Runsewe plans to launch factories of her company, Freetown Waste Management Recycle Limited in Lagos state and Ogun state, claiming that the decision is an important part of the implementation of the company’s five-year strategic plan to expand across all South-western states in Nigeria and solve the issues of tyre pollution in the South-West region before venturing into other parts of the country.

She explained that the company chose Lagos and Ogun because they are among the most industrialised states in the country and face significantly higher vehicle related pollution than any other state in the country. Today, there are over two million vehicles moving around the Oyo-Ogun-Lagos State axis producing waste of around 160,000 used car tyres monthly.

By solving this environmental challenge in the South-West, Runsewe believes it will be an excellent starting point for more environmental successes she hopes to achieve around the country in future.

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