Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be in Ghana, talking to an entrepreneur working on UN Sustainable Development Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Alhassan Baba Muniru is the co-founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Recycle Up! Ghana, and is busy making the world a better place. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Thanks for welcoming me to Ghana, Alhassan! Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing through Recycle Up! Ghana?
Alhassan: Sure, Spiffy! Did you know that Ghana is one of the 10 most polluted countries in the world? Massive amounts of improperly treated plastic waste are extensively contaminating landscapes, especially in densely populated urban areas. Streets, open spaces, rivers, and beaches are polluted by plastic bags and bottles, drinking water sachets, and colorful packaging materials. This poses a threat to the local population in various ways. Open drains get clogged, entailing considerable flood risks and outbursts of diseases. Open burning of plastic waste releases hazardous toxins. Unsecured landfill sites cause air pollution and potential groundwater contamination. Entering the ocean, plastic waste poses a major threat to the marine environment.
Spiffy: That sounds like a huge problem! Why did you decide to tackle this?
Alhassan: It is, Spiffy! At Recycle Up! Ghana, we believe that local problems need to be solved by local people. We focus on young people, high school and university students, and young entrepreneurs. We believe that these change-makers will create a more sustainable future for Ghana and beyond. Therefore our major purpose is to train and empower the Ghanaian youth and provide a platform for them to tackle the plastic waste challenges that exist in their communities.
Spiffy: How would you say that you’re working to create a more equitable world?
Alhassan: Our flagship project—The Recycle Up! Summer Camp—is a 10-day intensive and residential program for up to 30 pupils, between 14 to 18 years old. We are currently running two complementary projects: The “Nationwide Waste Education Campaign (NWEC)” and The Recycle Up! Incubator project. The NWEC aims to integrate topics such as sustainable consumption, waste management, and recycling into the curricula of schools in Ghana. While the NWEC focuses on education and aspects of behavior change, the Incubator program looks at things from a practical standpoint and supports young Ghanaians to create businesses that reduce and utilize waste.
Spiffy: Sounds like a stellar start! Can you tell me about a recent milestone you’ve achieved? What impact do you think it will have?
Alhassan: Recycle Up! Your School projects—developed by the Recycle Up! Ambassadors—are being implemented across primary schools, high schools, and universities and help divert over five tons of waste from landfill sites to local recycling firms every month. A successful example is the University of Ghana Plastic Recycling Project (UGPRP) which grew out of a pilot project our team undertook on the University of Ghana campus. The UGPRP is now the biggest campus-wide recycling project in Ghana and is collecting over two tons of plastic waste per month for recycling.
Waste collected for recycling from our Nationwide Waste Education Campaign. (Photo courtesy of Recycle Up! Ghana)
Spiffy: I am always curious to understand how entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you? Can you share about a time when you faced failure and didn’t give up?
Alhassan: Well, Spiffy, one example is when I was fundraising for our Incubator program. I approached many foundations and organizations for funding but wasn't successful. I had several meetings with a rep from one of our current funders who at that time told me they didn't have any funds for us. That didn't discourage me, I kept them updated about what we were doing and after two years of keeping them updated, we finally got the opportunity to receive funds from them for our pilot. The lessons learned from this were to not be discouraged at your first “no”, but to stay true to yourself and be consistent with what you do. If I hadn’t kept in contact with them or if had decided not to keep them updated, we would not have been on their radar.
Spiffy: Do you have any unexpected lessons you’ve learned recently?
Alhassan: One big lesson I have learned from a peer is to always think about a solution and not the problem. People like to talk for hours about problems but not talk about solutions. If we want to make a difference, we should use our time to search for solutions to the problems—that's how we can make changes in society.
Spiffy: It sounds like you’re well on your way to achieving this, Alhassan! Thanks so much for your amazing work, and for telling us about it. It’s been an honor. Over and out!
Alhassan Baba Muniru is a social entrepreneur, sustainability consultant, and SDG youth advocate with considerable local and international experience and recognition. He strongly believes in acting locally for global impact and this is what led him to co-found Recycle Up! Ghana. Alhassan holds a Joint International MSc. degree in Sustainable Development from the Universities of Leipzig, Utrecht and Stellenbosch. He is also a Ban Ki-moon Global Citizen Scholar and a GreenBiz 30 under 30 honoree. (First published on the Ladderworks website on May 13, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.