Interview: Upcycling with Pearl Recycling

This interview was held via Twitter on the 24th of June 2017.

Pearl Recycling is one of its kind - a waste upcycling company based in Nigeria and founded by Mide. Mide has been kind enough to agree to share her experience with starting her upcycling company Pearl Recycling, which is an innovative business model for interior decoration products. Thank you Mide for sharing with us here!

What exactly is upcycling?

Upcycling is taking an item that is no longer needed and giving it new life as something that is either useful or creative. Recycling takes consumer materials and breaks them down so their base materials can be remade into a new consumer product. But when you upcycle an item, you aren’t breaking down the materials. You may be refashioning for example, a seat made from PET plastic or an earring made from old fabric.

How did you get interested in upcycling?

In 2012, I bought a home wall décor from a store in UAE and imported them into the country. I took a closer look at them later and realized they were made from corn husk. You can imagine the stress I went through with custom at the airport only to realize they were things we could make in Nigeria. That was the starting point for me. I started researching on how to upcycle our common waste problems into décor & furniture.

How has your experience been with running your own upcycling business?

My experience hasn’t been different from what every entrepreneur faces especially in a country like ours. Sometimes you want to conquer the world and some other times; you just want to go on a solo adventure. Running a business in a field that is pretty new to a lot of people involves hardwork, smartwork and creativity. Beyond the challenges, it’s been worth the effort. I have learnt on the job and I am still learning.

How would you characterize the market for upcycled goods in Nigeria?

Nigeria is a special case study. In Nigeria, many factors determine the market trend of any product and one of them is our penchant for imported goods. It gives us this false sense of luxury. Another worrisome fact is the shallowness of our thinking. A lot of people already believe that once a product is upcycled from waste, it contains a lot of germs and impurities. (Comment from participant: Decontamination processes &germicidal treatments as part of the upcycling process basically takes of those fears).

 We need to sensitize our people. We need to tell them that the world is embracing sustainable living and Go Green initiatives. The market is enormous but we need to change the mindset of people.

What is one thing you wish you had known before starting Pearl Recycling?

I wish I had known that there are many angel investors who are willing to invest in profitable social enterprises.

Any advice to anyone who wants to get into upcycling?

Upcycling is a wide topic so, pick your niche. Carry out market feasibility studies, understand your environment and know the needs of the people. Find a solution around d needs. Solve a problem. Don’t come wit a solution that is out of tune with the needs of your market. Never allow the outer noise to drown your inner voice. Constantly recreate yourself; do not be rigid with an idea; play around, be daring, be creative and do a lot of research

Q&A with participants:

Onyema Nigeria: In what ways do you think recycling and upcycling can synergize to tackle the waste challenges in our cities?

A: We can start by working beyond money incentives for waste pickers. We can start giving them products upcycled from the same waste they picked. We also encourage Trash for Discount which allows household to keep waste and disallow wastes getting to our drainage or streets.

Onyema Nigeria: Which waste materials can be upcycled?

A: All waste materials can be upcycled. Fabric, Plastic, Tires, Metals, Glass, Just name it. Anything

Onyema Nigeria: What special skill is needed for one to become an upcycler?

A: Creative Skills; Research Skill; "Passion Skills"; and a positive mind

Onyema Nigeria: How do we encourage the youths to consider upcycling as an income earning venture?

A: By opening their minds to how things are done in saner climes when it involves waste management. Also, by sensitizing them and showing them what they can get from waste (that has been the major igniting fire)

Onyema Nigeria: Hopefully, soon the wave of recycling/upcycling will capture the wealth buried in the organic waste materials.

A: Yeah. But some people are already turning organic waste to Bio-fuel. I know one company who does that in Nigeria

Bridget Jafang: How do we purchase?

A: You can place it (your order) on Dealdey here or Facebook here.