Visionscape Group, a multifaceted environmental utility conglomerate, in the heart of the UAE is providing innovative solutions to tackle the challenges that encompass waste management in developing countries. Adeniyi Makanjuola, Director at Visionscape International Holdings, talks about Visionscape Group’s commitment to providing a world-class innovative waste infrastructure that supports circular economy initiatives across emerging markets.
Today, waste has become a critical factor in the lives of people all over the world. In Africa and the Middle East, for example, more people are beginning to realise the importance of waste management. Sub-Saharan Africa is in the middle of a paradigm shift that will go on in the 21st century.
Sustainable waste management has become a significant concern in the world today – it is vital to urban development. Between 2010 and 2035, the urban population is expected to more than double from 298 million to 697 million, with projections indicating that an estimated 1 billion people will live in urban areas. While urbanisation has the potential to act as an engine of economic growth and development for a society, it also brings enormous challenges without adequate planning.
Infrastructure Deficit vs. Waste Surplus
Population explosion across emerging markets is putting an extraordinary strain on the provision of essential waste management services due to underdeveloped infrastructure. Emerging markets around the world face a significant infrastructure deficit, caused by a growing gap between waste infrastructure needs and the resources the governments invest in meeting these needs.
“Providing adequate infrastructure to meet the waste management demand of the world’s growing population is likely to remain one of the most significant challenges for emerging markets. For instance, in one of our focus markets Lagos State Nigeria, a population of over 22 million, generating an estimated 15,000 tonnes of waste daily, Visionscape identifies infrastructure gaps and the strategies to bridge those gaps. A sound infrastructure plan will tackle waste surplus and maximise efficiency levels to support recovery over landfill disposal,” says Makanjuola.
Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, their waste management subsidiary’s scope of work includes providing more transfer loading stations, maintenance depots, landfills, biomass/waste to energy plants, materials recovery facilities to develop upon the waste surplus in that market, he states. “Successful delivery of the infrastructure will boost the economy and provide user-friendly waste management and resource recovery opportunities to the market. We need to look beyond landfills as the only means of waste disposal.”
Closing the infrastructure gap in waste management
Waste management in emerging markets requires a paradigm shift that redirects attention to how technology and innovation can change the landscape of the industry. It also requires a holistic approach that integrates all aspects of the waste management process. Public resources are often insufficient for this and “most governments in emerging markets are beginning to understand the need for private partnerships for additional resources and expertise,” Makanjuola says.
Public-private partnerships emerge as an effective strategy in closing infrastructure gaps. The United Kingdom is a pioneer of this trend, making use of partnership models to develop and deliver working systems across the country, he notes. “Governments in emerging economies have begun to implement this as well, by opening the market to private investors. This is where the Visionscape Group is playing a part as more countries see the need to pursue environmental sustainability,” the director comments.
As a company, he says they believe that a successful solid waste management system should automatically create an enabling environment for the protection of public health, sustainability of the environment, enhanced productivity of the economy and employment creation. “Public sector funds are often unable to meet infrastructural development requirements for basic needs of growing urban populations leaving governments in a near-impossible situation. Visionscape is bridging these gaps through bespoke solutions such as facilitating private infrastructure financing mechanisms,” he says.
The first engineered landfill/eco park in west africa
The Epe landfill, which lies on the northern bank of the Lagos lagoon in Lagos, Nigeria, was opened in 2009 to serve as a backup landfill for three other main state-run landfills that have since surpassed their capacities. Today, the 88-hectare landfill is run as a dumpsite , is home to over 300 waste-miners and receives 30% of the 13,000 tons of waste generated daily across the State, says Makanjuola.
Without any form of treatment and system to contain the materials, the groundwater and ecosystem are exposed to waste poisoning. The director says, in 2017, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions entered a partnership with the Lagos State Government to redevelop the site into an engineered landfill and Eco Park.
“This project is the first of its kind in West Africa. What makes this fascinating is the transformation from dumpsite to Eco Park which will become the centre for the test-bedding of renewable and clean technologies such as waste to energy, anaerobic digestion, solar, desalination, renewable energy alternatives in Lagos. The Eco Park will also house recreational and educational facilities powered by renewable energy. Lagos has a rapidly growing economy that depends extensively on imported fuels for its energy use. The city has a compelling need to develop alternate fuel sources to enhance its economy and environment,” says Makanjuola.
The project began in May 2017 with the excavation and bioremediation of previously buried waste material. The purpose of landfill burial is to stabilise the solid waste through careful management of the waste and the use of natural metabolic functions. The project focuses on topsoil leveling and soil recovery, leachate extraction and treatment, and there are plans to develop facilities for the removal and reuse of methane gas and contaminated water. There are also plans to rejuvenate the soil in parts of the landfill needing remediation for the development of a green area that will once again support plant and life forms.
The on-site materials recovery facility will integrate the informal waste miners (scavengers) into the system to continue with waste segregation activities under better working conditions, says Makanjuola, adding that the facility will receive residential and commercial waste and separate them focusing on different kinds of material including plastics, paper, glass and aluminum. Operating a closed-loop system ensures that recyclable scrap materials become raw materials for end-user manufacturers who are subsidiaries of the Visionscape Group, he adds.
Data, Research and Development
The role of big data in effective waste management is especially important in emerging markets where data collection, storage, and analysis remain daunting. Makanjuola says Visionscape is committed to developing innovative solutions based on accurate data and research.
“Our first step in Lagos State was a reconnoiter of the State to understand the terrain, population, and waste classification per demographic. Accurate data is one of the key tools we need to shape the future of waste management in emerging markets. The planning department works in tandem with the operations units to ensure that routes are optimised, and the residents in our servicing communities get the required containers according to waste classification and characterisation.”
Data mining is a crucial feature of daily activities in the company to ascertain continuous improvement in determining infrastructure development needs, says Makanjuola. “We are also excited by the opportunities technology offers in this industry. The data we mine is key to developing digital applications that address the peculiar needs of the communities where we operate.” The planning and analytics team mine and interpret geographic and socioeconomic data to understand the waste habits of households and deliver solutions to manage waste practices.
Environmental literacy and awareness
Environmental utilities require an integrated approach, with solutions that address each of the challenges. Socially, people need to understand and buy into any proposed new systems. Stakeholder co-operation is sacrosanct. “As much as we require sound policies and adequate resource allocation from the government, the buy-in of the people carries the same weight.
People are either not informed or misunderstand the concept of environmental sustainability globally, but particularly in emerging economies. Our mission is not only providing the infrastructure required to facilitate an adequate waste management system, but creating awareness to change the waste habits of individuals,” says Makanjuola. While there are enforcement agencies to encourage cooperation, they find it more beneficial to initiate programmes that promote willing participation of the citizens. In his view, one of the best ways to do this is to target school-age children and young adults in schools and via the media.
The company introduced Visionscape Environmental Education Programme (VEEP) as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to reach school children with the message of proper waste management using the 3Rs principle – teaching children about Reducing, Reusing and Recycling waste through class engagement sessions, games and multimedia content. “An early understanding of the concepts and benefits of practicing sorting and recycling will imprint good habits that they will hopefully continue to practice for a lifetime,” Makanjuola explains.
Beyond the waste
A waste and resource recovery infrastructure plan is critical to support industry development and economic growth in transitioning to a more resource efficient circular economy. Visionscape’s closed-loop system has been developed to provide a guide to achieving zero waste across emerging markets, says the director. “Through our subsidiaries, we have designed a strategy to find value in future waste and maximise resource recovery opportunities supported by the infrastructure, skills and innovative ideas that propel us towards achieving a truly circular economy.”
The group operates a closed loop system with subsidiaries in the UK, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Africa and the Middle East specializing in polymer recycling and compounding with Vision Petlon Polymers, Belgium based Vision Environmental SA’s facility is dedicated to the compounding of agricultural film; polypropolene is notoriously one of the near impossible plastic products to recycle. Another subsidiary WIS, the environmental engineering and renewable energy division of the Group offer water & waste water treatment and waste to energy solutions including anaerobic digestion and landfill gas conversion methods.
The world is developing exponentially, becoming increasingly interconnected, “and we are witnessing an extraordinary increase in the demand for resource recovery and renewable energy as we use up our finite resources.” Visionscape Group provides an integrated waste management system with a range of technologies and capabilities – “maximising the unique opportunity of generating sustainable and renewable resources while making an impact that is positive and beneficial to communities,” Makanjuola says.
“Waste is invaluable, and for us, the end-of-life of any product should be an integral part of designing a product. Through our subsidiaries, we focus on diverse areas, from waste management to recycling and manufacturing – strengthening our holistic approach toward a circular economy,” he concludes..