Economist talk: how much is worthless stuff worth? Bringing numbers on the table

We finally weighted everything I’ve collected so far. We can now talk some numbers in order to discover how much worthless stuff is worth in Namibia.

  • 248kg of paper = N$76.88
  • 16kg of aluminum cans = N$48
  • 189kg of glass = N$30.24
  • 95kg of PET (plastic bottles) = N$43.70
  • 17kg of plastic packages = N$4.93
  • 82kg of boxes = N$19.68

Total income: N$223.43

Plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass.

I only went out to collect 7 times and I spent on average around two hours and a half collecting and sorting. Thus, my rough estimation for an hourly income is around N$12.5 or N$2,000 monthly for a 40-hours work week.

It’s not a huge monthly salary, I know, especially for Namibia. But in Walvis Bay there are many people who are working for the fish factories. They have to work 12 hours shifts in cold environment and bad smell, sometimes having to do also night shifts. They salaries? Rumor has it it’s less than N$2,000.

My assistant for a day. Too serious and analytic for a kid.

How precise is my estimation?

When I say that my estimation is rough, I do mean it because there are a few limitations not accounted for in my model:

  • It’s not the time of work where productivity levels are constant
  • There’s not enough data to extrapolate
  • Parts of the two hours and a half was me lecturing kids on recycling or talking to random people who were interested what I was doing or explaining how BEN Namibia works or advertising Romania as the best country in the world or just deciding to choose non-efficient parts of the cities to collect (like the football field or big open spaces) just because I thought they deserve to be a little bit cleaner, even if just for a few hours
  • I’m new to the business and to the city – the first times it was more about getting to know the areas, I even got a bit lost a few times
  • Sometimes I purposely avoided the obvious collection points just because I was in a “discovery mood”
  • I got a new, fancy trailer in the middle of the experiment – it made the process easier, because I could sort directly on the trailer, saving time after collection
  • When I didn’t manage to sort the garbage directly on the trailer, Ritade always helped during the sorting process back at the bike shop.

Strategize. Strategize. Strategize.

Anyway, all the limitations aside, one thing is clear: once people start to know you and your business, it gets easier. That’s the case with any business. But especially when it comes to garbage, people just want to get rid of it. So during this time that I’ve been going around with the trailer collecting garbage in the street, I’ve managed to find a few good partners for future collaboration:

  • a paper supplier – schools produce a lot of paper, there are many old exam papers that are not needed, many old magazines lying around that no one wants. It’s very easy to put boxes in every class and ask the students to throw their papers in the boxes. This relationship was already started back in November, so it was easy to restart the partnership. We have just agreed that I can go and pick up paper Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They provided most of the 240kg of paper in just one go. The school is very close to the bike shop (the place where we store the bags), so the total work took maybe around 30/40 minutes. Yes, you feel the weight on the trailer, but then again you don’t have to ride it that far and it’s mostly downhill.
  • a supplier for boxes – the owner of one of the biggest meat shops in town (Afro Kapana) came to talk to me when he saw me picking up boxes in the bin close to their shop. It turns out that they throw away a lot of boxes every day, they even have to use their own petrol to dispose them in a different place (the municipality only picks up the garbage once a week, so they are not allowed to throw their boxes in the municipality bins all the time). For 40kg of boxes (that’s about how much you can fit in a bag), you’d only get around N$10, but if it only takes 10 minutes to load two bags, it still makes sense collecting.
  • a supplier for plastic bottles and aluminum cans – there are many bars in this area which, among other stuff, sell soft drinks (in plastic bottles) and beer (in both aluminum cans and glass bottles). They are also throwing away their garbage wherever they can. It makes for good collection points because their trash cans are always overflowing. But an even better way of doing it is talking to the bar owners. They can place the plastic bottles and aluminum cans directly in big collection bags. Aluminum cans have value – N$3 per kg. During my seven trips, I managed to gather 16kg without searching for them and without strategizing around them. That brought me N$48. But if you strategize around them and talk to as many bar owners as possible, it could work very well. Next Monday I’m supposed to have my first easy collection of plastic bottles and aluminum cans from a very helpful bar owner.

My conclusion since I’ve got this part-time job? The best business-model for using a bike trailer to collect garbage for recycling is having as many suppliers as possible. That’s why my next strategy is getting friends with bar owners and getting more schools involved into collecting paper in their classes.

Setting targets. Aim high.

As I’ve already mentioned earlier, my objective is to create enough money from garbage for a mini girls party with Paulina and Ritade. Given the prices in Namibia, I could probably cook a good dinner for N$223.43 for three people. Yet, why not aim for one of the fanciest restaurants in town? The Raft is nicely placed right on the shore of the ocean, by the lagoon (free ads). Neither Paulina, nor Ritade have been there. We were just riding our bikes close to it last weekend, when I heard Paulina saying: “That place looks nice, mos! My dream still is to go and have dinner there once.”. I figure we should have at least N$500/600 so that we can ignore the prices when choosing our food and drinks. With the new business model, it should be easy to get. We shall see.

Worthless stuff has some worth after all.

If you’re wondering what exactly the deal is, this is a project ran by, an organisation that does cool stuff, I’d say.

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