Chioma Angela Ukonu (Mrs.) is the Co-Founder/Chief Operating Officer at RecyclePoints Limited;a Social Entrepreneur with focus on environmental sustainability, women empowerment, youth employment and community engagement. She is a member of African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, a Youwin award winner, EDC/British Council CEP alumna, Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) alumna, SMEDAN certifiedand a beneficiary of the EDC/Cherie Blaire Foundation/ ExxonMobil Foundation ’Road to Women Business Growth’ Scholarship.
She holds a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Industrial Physics (Electronics Option), a certificate in Social Sector Management from the Pan Atlantic University and a certificate in Business Leadership from LEAP Africa. She sought after her passion in Customer Relationship Management with over six years of experience in the Telecoms and Banking industries.
Chioma is a Nigerian, a wife, a mother of three lovely kids,result oriented and a resiliently hard working young woman. She stands for sustainable development, local content development and she is a firm believer of a better Nigeria; where Nigerians are part of the solutions for Nigeria problems.
We reached out to Chioma for an interview to get to know more about Recycle Points, please read her interview below:
Please tell us what exacly you do at Recycle Points
I am the Chief Operating officer, I do everything from basically logistics, human resources and all that has to do with operations for the business
What happens next after waste collection?
They all come to our community base collection and sorting hubs (CoSoHUB), there we engage women in the neighbourhood to help sort the waste, remove labels and segregate according to colour or material type before crushing and thereafter sold to manufacturing/recycling plants who use the items as raw materials for the production of a wide range of items, including but not limited to; polyester fiber, carpets, hangers, pegs, buckets, aluminum ingots, craft papers for making carton etc. We encourage community based engagement.
Kindly talk about the Women Empowerment bit of your business
We have lots of women working with us,these are women without capital to start their own businesses and no academic know how to get a good job, and they have been given this opportunity to work on these wastes and they get paid, they are sure of their money and know what they are aiming for with the work they do. With this, they are able to move their families forward and also impacting their society, some of them like Madam Pat has been able to send her daughter to the higher institution, we greatly supported her daughter during her project as well and you know that raising a child to higher institution in Nigeria is no small feat so we are really proud of it.
Why did you choose waste management as a career and specifically Recycling?
Recycling Points was born out of an experience abroad in a family vacation where we were mandated to segregate our waste for recycling, people got fined for not doing it; when we got back home, we thought of initiating recycling in our community especially as it was causing a nuisance here. We started from our kitchen, the whole family started sorting and then to our street and at some point the whole area caught the bug; our security man actually became the first handler as neighboorhood shop owners would just knock on our gate and bring him cartons to give “madam”.
At some point, our compound couldn’t hold it any more, we got a space opposite the house and when that space couldn’t hold it, we had to get our first hub; So it basically started as environmental impact before the business side came to play and through research we started Recycle Points.
How supportive were your friends and family?
Ah! Nobody understood what we were doing; especially the neighbourhood, at that time, I was working in a bank and my husband in an oil and gas firm; People in the neighbourhood couldn’t phantom what we were doing with “kpali” and empty containers, in the house, even our cleaners were all confused but I’m sure by now the picture is a lot clearer for all to see. They really thought us crazy at that time.
What would you say is the future of Waste Recycling for Nigeria?
It’s a very big market; it’s now clear to people what recycling entails and means to them; before now it was hard to explain what we were doing, but now its a common sight to see our gutters and drainages clogged with all manner recyclable materials, so it’s easier to preach to the woman selling food and has a shop whose gutter is clogged and being affected by flood, telling her to sort and recycle these plastics and get gifts and still clear the drainages at the same time is good bargain, so basically, the message preaches itself. What we do is an economic, social and environmental impact agenda all together.
Why isn’t the Waste Recycling a big deal in Nigeria yet?
You need to have passion first, you cannot go into this kind of business with money on your mind, because the money is not there yet as its not a developed sector yet and right now not a lot of people have that kind of passion at that level to commit to recycling.
Why do think Lagos has not been able to manage her waste issues?
I believe population is a positive and negative part of the whole thing, Its a double edged sword and a big contributor to the problem of pollution and with very few people in the sector; there’s a lot to cover with limited hands and resources as well
Which party do you think is responsible for achieving Waste management /Recycling in Nigeria, Government or People or Organisations?
In Lagos, It’s the Lagos State Management Agency (LAWMA) for instance and we work in partnership with them but I’m a big fan of the saying “Don’t ask what the government can do for you but you can do for government”, I feel that individuals can come in, civil societies and enterprises also; they don’t need to start the business, they can invest if they don’t have time and don’t want to get their hands dirty, they can help with resources for those doing the ground work and make it very effective.
How challenging is it as a young person working to help create a pollution free environment for people?
Its challenging but worthwhile; obtaining resources, finding the right people to do the job, terrain- moving around in Lagos is a challenge on its own, there’s also the power issue as much as I don’t want to sound like cliché. We also hope that benefits like tax rebates can encourage us in this kind of sector.
How challenging or easy was it to get a team passionate about recycling to drive your vision?
It was not easy finding people with passion, clarity and vision of what you really do. But, thankfully we are still running and have a stable team that can do the job.
What is it like combining Family life with your work?
I have learnt to prioritize and be very wise with time management, like we all know, 24 hours isn’t even enough for the average lagosian so you just have to be smart.
Kindly give some information on the Green walk your organisation does and the impacts so far?
Its basically an awareness campaign with clean up works and events where we distribute fliers, we go to communities to sensitize them on what we do
How is your company positioned to address the Pollution issue in Lagos and Nigeria at large?
In addition to what we already do, We launched the Electric tricycles for door to door pick ups, it is the first of its kind in Nigeria and Africa, It has really been a fantastic change and with that, we have been able to reduce our carbon footprint, we have cut down our green house emissions very much.
What are your favourite SDGs and why?
Our business address two specific goals; Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Goal 5 – Gender Equality (via women empowerment through job creation)
Do you have plans to work on food waste in the future?
Yes, If we start scaling up, we would looking into other kinds of waste recycling and it also depends on what we see in a new state where we want to operate, for example, Lagos has a lot of plastic waste and it only makes sense to recycle plastic.
- What are quick wins for people to recycle waste easily in their homes?
Just start something; sort your waste and start gathering them together, you can give us a call on 234 809 800 2400 and get registered when we come to collect your waste or online at www.recyclepoints.com. We collect PET bottles, aluminum cans, pure water sachets, brown corrugated cartons, old newspapers, glass bottles and shredded papers.
- Please tell SustyVibes something people do not know about you
<laughs> Well, a lot of people might already know that I have been married for 10 years, my husband is also a co-founder at Recycle Points. I am also a big football enthusiast, I follow football news alot and my favorite club is Manchester United, I even interned in an international media house once as a football presenter, so who knows I might have been a football analyst.
- What would you advise young people interested in a career along Waste Recycle?
Have an idea that can truly make sustainable impact; have a truly detailed plan on how you want to go about your business, start small and grow big.
- How can people reach you or get to know more about your work?
You can check our website on www.recyclepoints.com
Follow us on twitter: @RecyclePointsNg
Follow us on instagram: @recyclepoints
And send us an email at [email protected]
View pictures of Chioma at work and from our interview day here.