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‘Upgrading African recycling sector is the most effective way towards sustainability’

‘Only about 1% of the world’s recycled metals comes from the African continent,’ according to Raymond Onovwigun, ceo of Romco Metals. His company is hoping to change that; it has opened a new recycling plant in Ghana at the start of the year, with ambitious plans for future expansions.

Romco currently recycles around 3000 tonnes of non-ferrous scrap – mostly aluminium and copper – per month, shipping it all over the world to major car manufacturers. This means one of Romco’s sites have processed the equivalent of thirty-four Olympic size swimming pools full of scrap since its launch. Onovwigun plans to set up five more recycling plants across Africa over the next five years.

Onovwigun: the lack of a proper recycling infrastructure in Africa is a ‘massive problem’ that we must tackle today.

Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in November, the London-based entrepreneur is eager to point out that the ‘biggest gap in sustainable infrastructure’ is the lack of a structured circular economy in Africa. While Africa represents a fifth of the world’s total population, its recycling industry is still in development. ‘But we have solutions,’ Onovwigun says with confidence.

‘That’s why we’re expanding our recycling activities throughout Africa in those areas where it’s needed most. In the process of doing so, we’re adding hundreds of industry jobs,’ he says. By adopting such an active approach, Onovwigun believes Africa can become a ‘recycling powerhouse’.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding; Romco managed to increase its revenue over 900% during the pandemic. The recycler is now working on setting up a trade hub on Cyprus and has launched various eco-initiatives, for example, cleaning African rivers of plastic scrap and delivering renewable energy to local communities.

Meanwhile, Africa is projected to be home to almost 2 billion people by 2040. ‘If we want to realise our climate goals, we have to significantly increase our recycling capacity. That’s the most effective way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,’ Onovwigun remarks. It makes perfect sense to capitalise on the abundant presence of critical metals lying in wait in dusty drawers, garages and landfills.

The entrepreneur envisions sustainability will take a big leap forward in developing countries in the years to come. He cites ongoing international efforts to ‘industrialise’ Africa, with more people wanting to invest in extracting resources from the ‘urban mine’ rather than mining the earth for more and more materials.  

Sure enough, Onovwigun’s story is a unique one. He set up his first recycling plant in Nigeria, West Africa, in 2015. Before that, he was a plumber, even running a very successful plumbing company in the UK. He switched careers, selling his business and taking out loans for roughly EUR 2 million in order to start a ‘clean tech’ company.

Romco has grown into a multinational employing over 220 people in three countries. Better yet, the recycling company earned a record EUR 4.9 million over Q1, 2021, which is 718% more compared to Q1 2020. ‘We were able to process 487% more metals in the first quarter of the year,’ Onovwigun is glad to report. Imaging where his company and the African recycling sector as a whole may be headed, he reflects; ‘Progress is only possible through bold investments.’

Onovwigun celebrates opening the new Romco Metals plant in Ghana in February.

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