With 3 million residents, the Ajegunle district is one of the most densely concentrated slums in Lagos, Nigeria. People living there often have shabby structures for homes, struggle to access to water and sanitation, and are unable to afford school fees to send their kids to school, according to the anti-poverty organization the Borgen Institute.
To make matters worse, the city neighborhood has a severe waste management problem, and trash often piles up in the streets.
Now a grassroots sustainability initiative is trying to tackle several of these issues at once.
The Recycle Pay project allows parents to cover a portion of their children’s school fees by collecting and bringing plastic waste to recyclers. The project was created by the African Clean Up Initiative and WeCyclers, working alongside the Morit International School in Ajegunle, according to the BBC.
The project is straightforward — a parent brings a bag of plastic waste to a facility, it gets weighed, and the weight is deducted from the school fees owed.
So if a parent delivers 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of plastic, that amount would be translated into money and deducted from how much they owed the school. Recyclers then come every two weeks to collect the waste.
The project eases the financial burden of families in the community, allows kids to go to school, and reduces the problem of plastic waste.
“I struggle to pay for school fees and later pay the remaining balance,” said parent Sherifat Okunowo in a video interview with the BBC. “But with the introduction of this project, the plastic has made it easy for me to pay school fees.”
The school’s principal said that the initiative has been a great success.
“It has really reduced the burden on parents,” he said in the video. “We now collect fees faster — the school wins, the children win, the parents win, everybody wins.”
All around the world, school fees often prevent children, especially girls, from continuing their educations, which greatly diminishes the opportunities available to them later in life and increases the likelihood of child marriage, sexual violence, and poverty.
Although education is a fundamental human right, it’s often out of reach of women and girls and people living in poverty. Globally, an estimated 262 million kids are out of school, including 61 million kids of primary school age.
Some countries around the world are trying to end this injustice. In Sierra Leone, for example, the government partnered with aid groups to give 1.5 million children free access to school. In Tanzania, the government has recognized that keeping girls in school helps to reduce child marriage. An activist in Kenya, meanwhile, has helped expand access to sanitary pads so families don’t have to choose between menstrual health and sending their daughters to school.
Elsewhere, recycling plastic waste has similarly been used as a bridge to education. Students at the Akshar School in the northeast Indian state of Assam can pay their school fees by collecting plastic litter.
The organizations behind Recycle Pay in Ajegunle think the project has the potential to work in schools throughout the country and maybe even beyond.
“We want to impact 10,000 kids over the next six years,” Alexander Akhigbe, founder of the African Cleanup Initiative, told the BBC. “It’s a project that can go around Nigeria.”