A new kind of black gold in Nigeria: used car tires

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

She founded Freetown Waste Management Recycle, an industrial facility dedicated to converting old tires into pavers, floor tiles and other goods that are in high demand in Africa’s most populous country.

“To create something new from something that is elsewhere as garbage was part of the motivation,” Runsewe told Reuters at her factory in the city of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria.

Workers unload used car tires from a truck in preparation for recycling at the Freetown waste management recycling factory in Ibadan, Nigeria, September 17, 2021.

“We are able to create an entire value chain for everything to do with tires,” she says, holding a paving stone in her hand that is one of the company’s best-selling products.

Waste management in Nigeria is patchy at best. Mountains of rubbish are a common sight in villages and towns, and residents often burn them at night because there is no safer disposal method. Tires are routinely unloaded and checked in.

Freetown relies on scavengers who collect old tires in landfills. You will receive 70 to 100 naira ($ 0.17 to $ 0.24) per tire.

Some tires are also supplied direct by mechanics, like Akeem Rasaq, who is happy to have found a place to make money from old tires.

“Most tires end up in public sewers and clog the drain, but things have changed,” he said in his roadside workshop.

A man works on the recycling line for used car tires at the Freetown waste management recycling factory in Ibadan, Nigeria, Sept. 17, 2021.

A man works on the recycling line for used car tires at the Freetown waste management recycling factory in Ibadan, Nigeria, Sept. 17, 2021.

Freetown started operations in 2020 with just four employees, and the growth has been so rapid that the workforce has grown to 128. To date, more than 100,000 tires have been recycled for everything from speed bumps to soft pavement for playgrounds.

“It’s important to support everyone who recycles in our country,” said Houssam Azem, founder of the Lagos Jet Ski Riders Club, who bought Freetown paving stones for a children’s playground.

“Taking tires that are a nuisance to the environment and turning them into something that kids can play on is a win-win for everyone, in my opinion.”

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