Since August, 4 creatively modified bicycles have been making the rounds of Lagos in just one neighborhood, cleaning up and recycling 5 tons of trash.

The WeCycle recycling trike in Nigeria

Wecyclers.com is a partnership between Billikiss Abiola (Nigeria) and Jonathan Kola (Kenya) to get people in Lagos to recycle aluminum and plastic. They do this using modified bicycles, welded to a trailer, making a tricycle that can carry large bags of sorted waste. Each bike costs approximately $500 to build, though those prices will come down as they start ramping up across the city.

I asked Billikus how they get people to recycle sachet’s (the little bags that water is sold in on the streets of Lagos), as well as plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

She explained the system, which is a partnership between Wecyclers and Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA). People are encouraged to recycle their trash using a system that tallies up the kilos of each type in a database, and then using a simple SMS system to keep people abreast of their score. One kilo of plastic is worth 10 points, one kilo of aluminum is worth 20 points. Once every three months they have a big event where you can redeem your points for items. The people with the most points get prizes.

Their other key partnership is with large corporates, like Coca Cola, who’s CSR arm sponsored the prizes and underwrote the costs of the event, giving out items like raincoats, backpacks, pens, notebooks and water bottles.

Steve Song is founder of VillageTelco, based in South Africa and he is one of the makers at Makers Faire 2010.

A village telco is a community telephone network. It is based on a suite of open source applications that enable entrepreneurs to set up and operate a telephone service in a specific area or supporting the needs of a specific community [1]. ┬áThe first village telco has been established by Dabba at Orange Farm, a township near Johannesburg, South Africa. Users can make free local calls to other Dabba subscribers, as well as use pay-as-you-go vouchers to make calls to ‘phones on other networks [2].

Technically, a village telco consists of:

  • a mesh network made up of Wi-Fi mini-routers combined with an analogue telephone adaptor (aka ‘Mesh Potato’)
  • SIP phones
  • a pay-as-you-go billing and management system
  • a SIP/VOIP server
  • least cost routing equipment

Together, the components comprise an easy-to-use, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit. The goal of a village telco is to make local telephony in developing countries inexpensive enough that it is virtually free. This has become possible, thanks to advances in open source telephony software and the dramatic decrease in the cost of wireless broadband technology.