In times like this, survival strategy in this kind of economic situation does not give you any convenient option. In this piece, MELEA JUDE MOSES, who was an intern with the Nigerian Pilot, takes a look at a dirty but lucrative business of picking plastic bottle cheaply thrown away after use. The bottles are later recycled and used in packaging locally made drinks such as Kunu, Zobo, Kunu-aya, Fura da nunu and others.


AMIDST the hot weather – physically, economically and politically – a bottle of cold plastic Coke, Nestle water, Eva water or Faro water may just prove to relieve one from the day’s scorching sunshine. Sometimes, it could just be a show of enjoyment by those who can afford it, or some poor folks trying to dramatise status symbol. The most interesting part is how these plastic bottles of different sizes are flung into different locations in the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja. From speeding cars and buses, restaurants and pedestrians, people have little or no idea they are throwing away money in form of empty plastic bottles after it might have gone through a recycling process. In the eyes of many Nigerians, especially the youths, scavenging for these plastic bottles, a business popularly called “rubbers”, is a type of business that has been probably cursed by the gods as a punishment for some irredeemable sins, while others see it as poverty gone wild that requires state of emergency treatment. But few youths that venture into this trade see it as a lucrative money spinner for anyone who can lay down his pride. The scavengers are called Baban Bolas in Hausa. From Nyanya to Wuse, Garki to Gwagwalada, etc, it is common to see plastic bottles scavengers digging refuse dumps, waste drums at residential and industrial areas, opening bags or refuse bags thrown away by passers-by. Interestingly, they could be seen exchanging money for plastic bottles between seller and customers with dirty hands, smelling cloths and bags. The sellers posit that many Nigerians walk the streets with empty pockets, wallets and purses when they can help themselves with what some called dirty money. While going around picking these dirty plastic bottles by scavengers seem dirty, but dirty money doesn’t smell when it comes to buying food and other essentials in the market; it is a survival strategy. Mama Favour, mother of four children and staff of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, smiled how this business of hunting for plastics bottles, washing them and reselling them to customers has helped her as an additional source of income which has enabled her to cater for her family. “After doing justice to the day’s work, I rush into my pick-and-sell rubber business,” she smiled broadly after receiving payment for 60 cartons sold. She added that nevertheless, plastic bottles are mostly bought in packs of twelve from vendors. She sometimes hunts for some when her job permits. Buying from the suppliers who are mostly considered as Baban Bolas goes for N25 for 75cl, witha resale to customers for N50 per carton of twelve. A dozen of big size wearing 150cl is bought for N50 from Baban Bolas and resold for N100 to customers, having 100% return on investment on this cool business. It’s interesting to learn that more than 90% of these plastic bottles are mainly used for reselling locally made beverages such as Kunu Zaki, Zobo, Kunu Aya (made from tiger nut), Fura-da-Nunu (made from cow milk), insecticides and local roots popularly called Agbo in Yoruba.“I have five children that help me on this business during weekends or when they are on break from school”, said Mama Lot who further explained that “this is one business that one doesn’t need start-up capital other than going to pick these plastic bottles that litter the streets on Abuja and Nigeria as a whole.” Recreational areas such as Millennium Park, National Children Park and Zoo are the gold mines for these plastic bottles. Considering the social activities that are attached to these areas, plastic bottles are inevitable, she while dropping some bottles into a basin of Omo water to wash the plastic bottles. She continued saying that, “picking these plastic bottles that come in different sizes from different locale in the FCT helps in keeping the capital city clean. “When my husband refused to give me money to help myself, I will definitely not cry because I have a business that brings income to my pocket. I use the money to pay my children’s school fees and also buy food for the family”, Mama Binta who is also involved in the business explained. She has been in this business for about 10 years now. When the business is at its peak, especially during dry season, she can make up to N8,000 per day and sometimes she gets nothing. This is usually so during raining season. She lamented the challenges of doing this business. One is always considered as a madman or madwoman when one is seen going to different refuse areas or places to pick these plastic bottles. She said that “sometimes one will trek far and wide with little or no plastic bottles to pick. She added that “washing these plastic bottles can be very stressful because some customers often return plastic bottles that are not properly washed.These plastic bottles are washed with only water and detergent. The water used in washing these bottles is bought from Mairuwa (water vendors) for N20 –N30 for a 20 litter depending on the proximity to where this water is fetched”, she said. This business is dominated by woman. Some of them are patriotic enough to appeal to the government to make available pipe borne water available so as to help in reducing the price they sell plastic bottles to buyers. There are however risks in reusing these plastic bottles. For many, the profits the retailers and customers make from this business is worth it considering the hours and hard labour and associated risk involved in this business. While many Nigerians think they (traders) are doing the society good by reusing this plastic bottles, medical experts and researches have pointed out the risks associated with recycling plastic bottles for food consumption by Nigerians. Experts believe that these bottles are used by people that may be having all kind of diseases causing microbes; bacteria, virus etc. that may slide into these plastic bottles during drinking. While those in the business of selling these empty rubbers use soaps, Omo, Ariel mostly as the remedy for keeping these plastic bottles cleanfor continue usage, they also think using the water and detergent ritual will also sent all these microbes packing. On a contrary, Dr. Adegbite of the Nyanya General Hospital said, reusing these plastic bottles is highly substandard as some microbes can survive high temperature. He added that, “in advanced countries, after the first use, the plastics are recycled to new ones to reduce the health implications of reuse.” Saleable plastic bottles tend to wear down from constant use, which may lead to bacterial growth in surface cracks inside the bottles. “The risk is compounded if one adequately washes the bottles between each use, using soap and warm water. But even with washing, these microscopic hideouts may still allow bacteria to linger”, explained Dr. Mercola. A study conducted in the United Sates suggests kind of thorough washing that could kill bacteria might make the bottles unsafe in another way. Frequent washing of these plastics might accelerate the break- down of the plastic, potentially causing chemicals to leach into whatever drink that is being refilled into the reused bottles. While the trend of recycling plastic bottles lingers, many are raising their banners why it’s unwise to use these bottle suggesting other stainless glass containers that are more health friendly compared to the beauty and beast embedded in the plastic bottles one drinks from.