Mr Green Africa, a Nairobi based recycler and recycled plastics supplier has received funding from DOB Equity, a Dutch family-backed impact investor in East Africa, and Global Innovation Fund, in partnership with Unilever.
According to Keiran Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Mr Green Africa: “We believe we are in the right place, at the right time, to create a blueprint for emerging markets to provide a circular solution to the plastic challenge and need partners like DOB Equity and Global Innovation Fund that see this opportunity.”
The funds will allow Mr Green Africa to expand and build on the aggregation model which enables it to scale the trade of recyclables while building a strong and reliable supplier network. The firm will lead to increased processing capacity to produce higher value recycled products in larger volumes to supply consumer goods companies.
“DOB Equity is keen to support companies focusing on waste reduction and recycling and Mr Green Africa is DOBs’ second investment in the sector following a recent investment in Zanrec, a waste management company on Zanzibar,” said Brigit van Dijk – van de Reijt, CEO of DOB Equity.
Urbanisation and a growing middle class is leading to increased plastics ending up in the environment. Plastic is burned, ends up on the streets or on a landfill. A growing number of international consumer goods companies including Unilever have pledged to reduce the impact of their plastic packaging on the environment, by working towards using 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier. In Kenya only 10 per cent of plastic waste is currently being recycled.
Earlier, Unilever East Africa partnered with Mr Green Africa to scale up its current plastic recycling program in Primary schools. Dubbed U-Turn, the campaign gets people to change their behaviour on how they handle plastics to curb pollution.
The two firms also called on manufacturers, stakeholders and the public in general to join the gospel of plastic recycling by better managing waste.
“We are on a clear journey towards a circular economy for our plastic packaging, we commit to lead the way in driving a systemic behaviour change among our peers and consumers towards creating a sustainable and clean environment for future generations.” said Mr. Joseph Sunday, Corporate Affairs and Sustainable Business Director at Unilever.
Though collection remains a prime challenge in plastic waste management, the U-Turn initiative aims to establish sustainable behaviour change in plastic recycling through consumer education and awareness using primary schools channel as a positive catalyst.
Nairobi produces around 2,400 tonnes of waste a day, of which roughly 60 percent is collected and only around 10 percent recycled. The rest is dumped illegally or burned. Eliminating this waste has resulted in 70 direct jobs at Mr. Green and provided opportunity for another 1700 waste collectors.
“Our strategic partnership with Mr Green Africa has opened new frontiers in confronting the plastic challenge in a more collaborative and sustainable way. We shall continue to leverage on our purpose to drive even greater environmental and social impact in our quest to lead in creating a brighter future for all East Africans,” said Justin Apsey, Unilever East Africa CEO.
Mr Green Africa currently engages over 2,000 previously marginalised waste collectors and sells over 2,000 metric tons fairly sourced recycled materials for local and international markets.
“We expect the demand for recyclable materials in emerging markets such as Kenya to overtake that in developed countries, driven by the fact that Kenya is a growth market for these companies, as well as the negative effect of plastic packaging being more evident.” said Saskia van der Mast, Investment Director of DOB Equity. “with its unique sourcing infrastructure and focus on quality we believe Mr Green Africa can work together with companies and provide an example for the plastics value chain globally”.
Mr. Green Africa incentivises marginalised waste pickers & base of the pyramid stakeholders by offering premium prices and added benefits, to provide a continuous supply of valuable recyclables which in turn creates pathways out of poverty for them, while simultaneously creating a positive environmental impact. The firm then processes the recyclable material into valuable raw material and feeds it back into plastic manufacturers’ supply chain to enable them to achieve their circular economy goals, and benefit from raw material cost savings.
Waste pickers benefit from a variety of supplier loyalty programs and services such as life and entrepreneurial skills, health care assistance, as well as access to micro-loans. Other non-monetary benefits include the provision of protective clothing such as gloves and boots, as well as tools and in some instances, mobile phones.
Alix Zwane, CEO of Global Innovation Fund, said “This is a great investment for GIF – an innovative business with demonstrable returns in terms of financial and social impact. Our funding will support its growth through which it will deliver real change. We look forward to engaging further with the team to realise the potential of this business.”
Mr. Green Africa sees the informal waste pickers as invisible heroes who have languished at the bottom of the waste hierarchy for too long. Establishing a mechanism through which informal waste pickers can trade directly with Mr. Green Africa gives these invisible heroes a rare opportunity to improve their lives. This is Mr. Green Africa’s driving purpose and the key ingredient that makes the organization sustainable, and scalable.