2019 Young Entrepreneurs Awards winner: Prince Kwame Agbata

Initiative: Coliba

Country of impact: Ghana

How tragedy inspired one young entrepreneur to tackle Ghana’s plastic waste crisis

When heavy rain hit Accra in June 2015, the Ghanaian capital’s infrastructure couldn’t cope. Drainage systems choked with waste collapsed, causing devastating floods which claimed more than 150 lives.

One of the victims was Coliba founder Prince Kwame Agbata’s best friend.

“The realisation that poor waste management was to blame for my friend’s death was almost too hard to bear,” Prince recalls.

“I spent months trying to find meaning in my life and I decided that I had to address the plastic waste problem using technology. As a software engineer it felt like the only skill I had.”

Turning waste into a living wage

While Ghana generates more than 1.7 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, just 2% is currently recycled. A lack of infrastructure and informal collection provision means most litter is buried or incinerated.

Recognising that in Accra waste collection is often done by marginalised women for unpredictable pay, Prince devised Coliba – a mobile platform that formalises waste-pickers’ work and promotes plastic recycling.

By connecting to Coliba’s alerts, which are available in various local dialects, registered collectors can find out when and where to collect clean plastic waste. They’re also provided with protective gloves and garments.

Coliba then works with recycling plants all over Ghana to recycle the recovered plastic, before selling it to companies to manufacture new products.

Increasing recycling and improving lives

Everyone benefits. Households can arrange for their waste to be collected efficiently. Waste-pickers are paid a fair living wage and able to work more safely. Coliba earns money from selling recycled plastic. And manufacturers get access to recycled materials, which would otherwise be difficult to source.

Coliba now works with over 100 waste-pickers and collects more than 2 tonnes of plastic waste every day. Prince aims to scale up the company’s reach, improving recycling rates and opportunities for many more people.