Oluwashola Jesuseitan CEO of Petdavella Nigeria Limited, a recycling company with focus on energy efficiency has said his company has set out on the task of reducing carbon emissions in the country to the barest minimum with a view to saving the environment.
Jesuseitan who spoke in this interview with Business Hallmark’s OBINNA EZUGWU, also talks about the impact of plastics in the environment and what his company is doing to reduce it.
What is Petdavella about, what’s the whole concept about?
Petdavella is an organisation with focus on sustainability, that’s our start up DNA. By that I mean, leaving the world a better place for the next generation. In advertising, we have the below the line items. These are T-shirts, snickers, pens, pencils, notepads, etc. They are called below the line because the brand owners give them out to people to consume and in the process, advertise the products. So, what we do is that we produce those things using recycles materials. Materials like newspapers, tyres, and in some countries, old currencies. They are upcycled into different pens, pencils notepads, etc. That’s basically what we do in advertising. In energy, we are about energy efficiency, precisely renewable energy, which is solar energy. We have an NGO, such that the profit the business makes we spend on the non-profit organisation with a view to developing our people.
Can you explain in details about the NGO?
In Petdavella group, we have different businesses that we do for profit. Part of the profit made is then dedicated to developing our communities, like what you call Corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, what sustainability teaches – because you will wonder that the business started seven years ago and the NGO is seven years old, which ideally is not what CSR is because it’s after you have made profit that you do CSR – but for us, even when we have not made any profit, we were still impacting on our communities. What sustainability teaches is, if you are strong, your strength is measured by the number of people you pull up. It teaches that you do business differently, you empower your employees, stakeholders and the community. For instance, in agriculture, we give money to the small scale farmers. We know that the normal farming practice is that after the farmers have done all the work, before they can transport to the market, they won’t have money to survive on. So, we intervene in this regard. In the tomato value chain for example, you find out that the real farmers, the amount of money they sell to the middlemen is small. If for instance, they give Mr. B the tomatoes to come to Lagos and sell, if Mr. B gets to Lagos and sells for N300, he will go back to the farmers and give them N100. If he sells for N250, he will give them N50. Sometimes he will return and tell them that people didn’t buy the tomatoes. But he won’t be bringing them back because that means paying another transport fare. He would leave them in the market to rot away. So, what sustainability says here is, protect the interest of those small holder farmers. Get them into contracts with the off takers, so that when they produce, the off takers will buy and bear the headache of transportation. Such that whatever he sells for, N200 or N300 or whatever, the farmers are guaranteed of making a living.
We are also into training, mentoring and consulting. We are also into tourism and a few other things. But essentially, that’s what sustainability is about.
The farmers, how do you identify them and how can potential beneficiaries access you?
First, they must be in a cooperative or a cluster. For instance, some of the people that we work with in Imeko are a group of farmers planting tomatoes together. They are in a cooperative. The same with those we are working with in the north and other parts of the country. The essence is that the help can be extended to many people at same time and what we can also get will be substantial. It is also important that they are people who are willing to try new things. What we notice is that some of the farmers use old farming techniques. They plant seedling that are not improved and so on. So, we introduce improved seeding and all of that such that in the end, the final product will be good enough for the off takers to sell or process, and it will also give the farmers more money.
You have products here, pen, pencils, books. You said they are produced from recycled materials?
Yes, they are. I’m man of faith and one thing with people of faith is that they are so led, rather than by what they see. But beyond that, my company is like a market leader in sustainability in Nigeria. Some of the ideas we work with are relatively new. Many people don’t understand it. And as a mover, you need to put a lot of effort to help people understand what you do such that it can gain traction. Up until November, we had heavy rainfall. The reason is that there is climate change. If we don’t do things differently, it will only get worse. You can see the effect of climate change all over the globe. There is a recent report I read to the effect that because of climate change, there are lots of airborne diseases these days. The sunshine that is intense, the rain that is heavier than normal are throwing up some allergies, as we inhale or ingest in food, they are causing diseases in the body. The study was done in the UK. You are also aware that because of preponderance of plastics, fishes in the oceans are dying. In fact, if we are not careful, 40 to 50 years from now, there may not be fishes in the oceans. The fishes are eating plastics and they are changing their chemical composition, which may cause them to go extinct. It also affects humans who consume them. There is an ongoing study to ascertain the possible effects.
So, you are encouraging recycling such that the plastics don’t end up in the oceans?
Yes! That’s one way that sustainability works. Another way is education. The more we reduce plastics that we carry about; the more we minimize plastics that we use; the more we re-use already existing plastics, the better for the environment. Recently, about 2010 big companies took a pledge to reduce the amount of plastics that they use. They have have discovered that they are the biggest culprits in this regard, Nestle, Coca-Cola, 7Up and so on. Recently too, Coca-Cola and 7Up started doing a campaign to encourage use of bottles. If you also notice, Nestle plastic bottle is the lightest. If you hold it in your hand, you can crush it. That’s one way the company is reducing theirs. What they were using to produce one million bottles before, they can use to produce five million. There are many conversations around sustainability, but remember we were talking about the spectrum of the recycling itself. As long as you are on that path, you are helping to make the world a better place.
Can you explain what recycling wheel or spectrum you talked about?
Well, a spectrum is like the hand of a clock. Let’s say the plastic is produced at 12 ‘O clock and shipped to stores. If by 1 ‘0 clock, you are someone like me who bought the plastic and reuses it, such that it’s not every time you are buying new plastics, you have already started recycling.
There are some other people at 2 ‘ 0 clock. You are attending a party for instance, you see children and women coming to pick up the plastic bottles. They will go and resell the plastics to people who are at 3’ 0 clock. They are the ones who reuse the plastics to sell Zobo, kerosene, palm oil and so on. At 4 ‘0 clock are the the small recycling companies in Nigeria. What they do is to beat up the plastics and move them to the next person who may be at 5′ 0 clock. What these people do is to break it down. There are some others at 6’ 0 clock, what they do is beat the plastics into two inch sizes. There are some others at 7 ‘0 clock, they can beat it into less than an inch. The reason is that the machines that can crush the plastics to these different levels are at varying cost. And if you don’t have sufficient raw materials to feed to the machines, it doesn’t make economic sense. Some people at 8 ‘0 clock will now beat the materials into granules. The granules are what is used to recycle. They can be used to make other plastic products, chairs tables and so on.
Then there are others at 9 to 10 ‘0 clock. What they do is to upcycle. To upcycle is to turn the raw materials into another product. This is where we play in the advertising industry. The materials can be used to make pens, pencils, school bags, footwear and so on. There are some funny looking foot wear that are brought in from China, they are made from recycled materials. In India, they use it to make shirts. Then there are those who distribute the final products to the end users. That’s about the spectrum of recycling.
However, what sustainability says is that as long as you are on that wheel, not matter what time you are, you are doing something to help reduce the amount of plastics in circulation. But we encourage people to move to the next stage. Someone like me for instance, I should be able to collect and crush going forward.
Have you tried to collect and crush before? What challenges did you face?
There was a time we wanted to, but the type of machine we were looking for, we found out that it would cost us over $1million. The machine could even upcycle. But then, no bank wanted to invest that much. That was why we dropped the plan.
Are you looking for government assistance?
Yes, we encourage the government to come in, because this is a way of sanitising the system. You find out that if you look at rivers or lakes in Nigeria, you see plastics all over them. If government is interested in cleaning up our water bodies as a lot of countries are doing, they should come in. There is a bill already before the House of Reps which aims to reduce the production and use of single use plastics. We encourage them to quickly pass it so that the government can assent. It’s the way to go. Otherwise, the indiscriminate use of plastics is going cause a lot of environmental problems here. Although we don’t have the kind of equipment to test the impact the plastics are having on aquatic lives, but I can bet you that the fishes in these waters are eating plastics.
Wecycle has achieved popularity in Nigeria. What stage are they in the recycling spectrum and what will it take to you to get there?
Wecylers, I would say, are beyond 6 ‘0 clock. I know that recently, there was this international competition that Unilever sponsored and Wecylers which represented Nigeria won the award. They got some funding as a result.
Our company like I said, needs funds. You can imagine the impact we would have made if we were able to raise that $1million to buy the machine I talked about. I’m certain that the amount of plastics in our environment would have reduced to the barest minimum, which is what we are aiming for. Unfortunately, there are not many impact investors in Nigeria who understand the language.
Is it that the banks don’t see potential in the business?
Well, you know that Nigerian banks are not forward thinking. But I believe that the bus is going to leave them at the bus stop soon. With what the fintechs are doing, they are going to run them out of town. A fintech company can get a lot more done inside one office and just with a laptop than a bank with 100 branches.
You also spoke about lack of infrastructure, which makes it difficult to run a competitive business. Isn’t it part of why the banks are not keen on lending? Because at the end of the day, they are not charity organisations.
That may be. Yes, the banks are averse to risks. And when they would have looked at it – remember I said we wanted to be producing pencils with newspapers but when we did our numbers, the price point was closer to N100 per pen. Again, newspaper readership in Nigeria is declining, and newspaper is the raw material needed to feed the industry. So, we realised that it would just be a nationalistic move not backed by sound economic consideration. That was partly why we abandoned the project. So, to be honest, it is more cost effective to produce in China and import. If you produce the pens in China for instance, the production cost may just be N20, and if you add freight cost, maybe it will come to N50. But if the infrastructure is right, you can produce at N30 in Nigeria.
But shouldn’t the government be subsidising production in this sense instead of fuel?
Yes, fuel subsidy is absolutely illogical. But of course, you know that there are so many illogical government policies in Nigeria. And because some people somewhere are feeding fat, things may not change. Unfortunately, the same people who are feeding fat also control the narrative. And what they argue is that if we continue with the subsidy, things will turn out fine. I have a car, maybe I would drive it once a week when I’m going to church with my family. But if I want to go out alone, I will take public transport because that’s a way of conserving energy. If many people on Lagos park their cars and take BRT buses, you can imagine the impact. So, fuel subsidy is totally illogical. Imagine if the humongous amount of money used to subsidize fuel is put into health, education and other critical sectors. We wouldn’t have need to travel abroad for health tourism.
So, what is the future for Petdavella?
Well, we have a lot we are doing. There are two babies we are nursing. One is in urban transportation. If we say that there is a monster in Lagos called traffic, wait till another five years. People would spend five hours to move from Ikeja to the Island. One, Lagos is not planned. Two, there is no efficient public transit system. It’s a good thing that Opay, Gokada, Max are helping, because you find out that the fastest means of moving around in Lagos is still motorbikes. The baby we are bringing is called Ecoride. The problem we have identified with the existing model is that, because it’s ride-to-own scheme, there is no plan for the riders after the bikes must have become theirs and they have to leave the app platform. The value proposition of Ecoride is to take care of that day.
Then two, I’m sure you have been in traffic in Lagos and a bike rider is terrorising you. But they make it seem as though you are the one harassing them in your car. We want to change that mindset through training. We want to train them to understand that there is dignity in labour. We are looking at the future where everything would be electric, which is why we chose the name Eco. The only thing delaying us now is funding. We have not seen the person who will understand the idea to give us money to start. The business needs a lot of start up capital, but our feasibility shows that it is a very viable business project.
You can imagine that Oride attracted close to $30 million investment. What we needs is not even up to $1million. So, we call on investors to come. We assure you that in five years, more than 1000 people would have been given jobs. Again, because the bikes we are going to use are electric, there would be a lot of carbon offset.