Built on the banks of the eponymous Niger River, Niger’s capital, Niamey, is a modern and lively city, and the country’s largest. A city of hot, dusty streets crowded with travellers and residents from across West Africa, and the world, Niamey provides visitors with lively markets, relaxing river-side views, and some of Niger’s best cultural attractions.

However the city also affords visitors with another, less-welcomed sight: piles of garbage strewn throughout streets and public places. Niamey has extremely limited coordinated trash collection, and garbage is often left to accumulate uncollected. It is very common for neighbourhoods in Niamey to have small mountains of trash piled up next to residences, markets, public places, and even schools. Niamey’s trash problem is not only unsightly, it creates unsanitary conditions that are detrimental to the population’s health and wellbeing throughout the city. Uncollected garbage also causes stagnant water that breeds malaria-carrying mosquitos. Livestock that eat garbage can pass on chemicals and toxins to people through their meat. And, trash often ends up being burned, which emits fumes and chemicals that cause respiratory health problems. The garbage also has an extremely negative impact on the city’s surrounding ecosystems, particularly the Niger River, which is the source of many local livelihoods.

To meet the challenges that Niamey’s garbage problem poses, a group of entrepreneurial and talented youth launched Niger Bioplast. Niger Bioplast is a social enterprises that supplies clients with reliable, professional trash collection, including easy-to-use, covered trashcans, biodegradable garbage bags, and innovative models for recycling and repurposing what has been thrown away. Led by its founder Sofianai Boukari, Niger Bioplast is not only dedicated to cleaning up Niamey, thereby helping to improve sanitary and health conditions, but is also a viable business model, with clients paying a subscription fee for weekly trash collection and sorting.

In place of a city-wide, coordinated trash collection service in Niamey, hundreds of neighbourhood associations and youth groups take up this responsibility using donkey carts. However, these services often fail as association members become inactive or equipment breaks down. Niger Bioplast is addressing these issues by professionalising trash collection, providing quality and timely trash collection for a reasonable fee.

Niger Bioplast is a grant recipient under USAID’s Youth, Advocacy, Women, Work, and Alliances (YAWWA) project, implemented by SNV in Niger from October, 2014 to October, 2017. YAWWA identified entrepreneurs and enterprises like Sofianai and Bioplast who operated viable business plans, and who made positive impacts on social issues, and supported them to scale up their enterprises. The support from YAWWA allowed social enterprises throughout Niger to expand their activities, which increased their positive affect on communities and created employment opportunities for their fellow youth. The project also worked to build culture of entrepreneurship throughout Niger by connecting these young entrepreneurs to share ideas.

Niger Bioplast founder, Sofianai Boukari

The Bioplast team saw an opportunity to launch a better garbage collection model when they noticed that other services typically collected trash in open-air trashcans and carted it away using donkeys only every few weeks. The high winds that are common in Niamey during certain seasons meant that trash would blow out of containers and end up all across the city. They designed their own metal, enclosed trash receptacles that use removable bags to ensure that the garbage is secure and does not blow away. Niger Bioplast’s trashcans also have openable doors that allow heavy trash bags to be removed easily.

Niger Bioplast’s decision to use biodegradable trash bags led to one of their most innovative features. Not only do the biodegradable bags do significantly less long-term harm to the environment, but the bags are also color-coded for different types of trash, introducing the concept of trash pre-treatment. Bioplast uses this trash-sorting system to help their collection team more effectively process the waste, and more easily identify plastics and other materials that can be recycled or used in a different ways. Niger Bioplast is coordinating with other YAWWA partners to explore how garbage can be repurposed, including transforming organic materials into compost and recycling plastics to create decorative household items.

With YAWWA’s support, Niger Bioplast has grown to employ 22 young people. And the team has been able to install 51 trashcans in Niamey. They’ve also taken on 26 clients, including the Grand Hotel and the National Office for Publishing and Press (ONEP).

In addition to being supported financially as a grantee, YAWWA also helped Niger Bioplast connect with contemporary social enterprises by participating in YAWWA’s annual Social Innovations Fair. At the Fair, Bioplast presented their creative trashcan design and biodegradable bags. Sofianai Boukari is also part of YAWWA’s exchange network that brings together the social entrepreneurs involved in YAWWA to exchange ideas by phone and social media.

In the near future, Niger Bioplast plans to expand by taking on more clients throughout Niamey, and by starting a composting facility to further lessen the impact of the city’s garbage on the environment. With YAWWA’s support, Bioplast is well position to scale-up its operations and continue to improve on existing models and designs to clean up Niamey, and perhaps all of Niger.