From Plastic To Prosperity: How A Group Of Students Is Championing A Global Change Through Discarded Materials

Leaves rustled. Birds chirped. The time ticked slowly, silently sending message of its existence to the tired bodies. Away from the hustling and bustling associated with the movement of students in Ijagun community, these bodies continued their endless activities. They were in groups. Some saw to the cutting of longer stems of banana into considerable sizes. Few fed the hewn sizes into the extracting machine to get the fibers for the next stage. They worked silently, amid low humming sounds. They are ENACTUS students of Tai Solarin University of Education and they are motivated to creating a better world for all.

When Robert T. Davis founded Entrepreneurial Action in Us (ENACTUS), formerly known as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), in 1975, little did he know that the impact of the organization would resonates to the far western part of Africa. More than four decades after, the organization has over 72,000 volunteers, mostly students who are social innovators driven by entrepreneurial values, across 1,730 campuses in 36 countries, positively impacting the lives of 1.3 million people each year. 

They are guided by educators and supported by business leaders; these teams of students conduct needs assessments in their community, identify potential solutions to complex issues and implement community impact projects.

In a bid to further pursue the organization’s vision in creating a better world while developing the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators, the ENACTUS team from Tai Solarin University of Education is keen on achieving a greener planet through their innovative projects dedicated to the eradication of plastic wastes on the planet. 

Indeed, plastic waste is one of the increasingly pressing environmental issues as the continual production of plastics surpasses world’s ability to deal with them. The usage of plastics ranges from plastic bags, helmets, incubators, equipment for clean drinking water and of course, sanitary pads among many others.

According to a Research Gate publication, the conventional sanitary pads comprises of series of layers such as fluid permeable surface (topsheet), an absorbent core, and an impermeable backing with adhesive. 

Similarly, from a laboratory analysis carried out by the team, they found out that a sanitary pad contains “bisphenol and 90% plastic”. This, then, makes the production of the sanitary pads to be capitally expensive. Thus, this forms the basis of the team’s project – the need to reduce plastic wastes and makes the sanitary pads cost affordable to its users.

To further achieve this, the team launched P’Pal Sanitary Company, the first ever plastic-free sanitary pad company in Nigeria, amid the raging coronavirus pandemic in 2020. 

They are replacing plastics materials with fibers extracted from banana stems. These innovative pads come in two forms: the reusable and the disposable, that are both directed towards eradicating plastics in menstrual products.

 In comparison with the conventional sanitary pad that takes over 400 years to degrade, this plastic-free sanitary pad “degrades in only three months”, the team leader, Comfort Omiyale uttered excitedly. 

Hence, in less than a year, the team had helped reduced “over 25,000 tons of menstrual wastes, created job opportunities for thirty-four unemployed women and fifteen students, upcycled more than 7,200 banana stems reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and helped over 500 ladies save over two million, five hundred thousand naira that could have been used in purchasing plastic sanitary pad”, she added.

Closely related with the plastic-free sanitary pad company is the team’s second social enterprise named Fibban Enterprise. The enterprise was started to further achieve the team’s mission of creating a better sustainable world. 

Since the mass production of plastics began after the World War 1, the world has witnessed a surge in the usage of plastic materials. Its reason for its wide adoption is the convenience it offers. An average lifespan for the usage of plastics materials, most especially plastic bags and pet bottles, ranges from three minutes to five minutes before they are indiscriminately disposed.

Therefore, the negative impact of plastic bags on the environment cannot be underestimated. In addition to taking hundreds of years to dispose, Kelvin Ujeh, an environmentalist states that: “toxic substances are released into the soil when plastic bags perish under sunlight and, if plastic bags are burned; they release a toxic substance into the air causing ambient air pollution”. 

A research by Simons in 2005 further lends credence to Ujeh statement, when he asserted that the accumulation of carcinogenic compounds through the usage of plastic bags may leads to cancerous diseases.

These and many more are the reasons why the team’s Fibban Enterprises is campaigning against the usage of plastic bags by stores, restaurants and supermarkets throughout the country. 

The enterprise is not only signing a petition against the usage of plastic bags: it is also replacing plastic bags with fibers bags extracted from the stems of bananas. The “choice for banana fibers hinge on the fact that it degrades quickly, costs almost nothing to extract, and proves as the best material for an environmentally friendly product”, the team lead explained. 

The paper bag is innovatively produced through simple four steps which are: collection of giant wastes banana stems from farmers; shredding of the banana stems into smaller sizes and boiling at 100-degree Celsius; conversion of the boiled stems into pulp using mechanized grinder and the subsequent mixture of the pulp in a large container.

Finally, a walk around most university campuses would leave you mystified. The reason is not farfetched: the improper disposal of pet bottles. These pet bottles clog the drainage system and form a horrible sight to behold. 

Thus, this ENACTUS team from Tai Solarin University of Education creates waste bins from thousands of pet bottles collected from fellow students which are subsequently deployed around the university campus. All in all, directly and indirectly, this group of students are further pursuing Sustainable Development Goals 1,2,3, 13, 14 and 15 thereby leading a global change in the process.

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