As most African cities are growing at a fast pace, so is their waste. With an annual growth rate of six percent, East Africa has one of the world’s fastest growing population that is exacerbating issues of pollution, environmental degradation and ill health due to poor waste management. To tackle this issue, Athina Kyriakopoulou created a sustainable waste management company in Tanzania.
Athina established her startup, Phenix Recycling, in 2016 with an objective to promote functional and sustainable waste management to businesses and organisations in Tanzania and the rest of East Africa. Her startup bridges a significant gap between businesses struggling with how to responsibly manage their waste and those using waste as a resource.
“We provide bespoke services tailored to the needs of our clients, ensuring sustainable operations by creating an “uninterrupted power supply” for waste and enabling a circular economy across geographies, industries and sectors,” reads a statement on the website. Phenix Recycling also runs conscience awareness programs on the importance of recycling and the need for a circular economy in developing countries through strategic partnerships and work with schools.
In January, the startup partnered with Mobisol, one of the world’s leading players in decentralised solar electrification to tackle the ever-growing problem of e-waste in the off-grid industry, making the startup responsible for the safe disposal of all expired electronic parts of Mobisol’s solar systems in Tanzania. Other clients of the one of a kind startup include M-Kopa Solar, Fenix International and travel company, Abercrombie & Kent.
However, being the first of its kind and at the forefront of a new formal industry, Phenix Recycling faces the challenge of competing with informal sectors while trying to build an awareness around the need for its services. “Navigating the regulatory environment is also a challenge as we have an innovative businesses model that is not fully regulated yet,” Athina said in an interview with How We Made It In Africa.
So far, the startup has solely been funded by owner’s capital of around US$50,000. “This gave us a two-year runway in which we piloted three versions of our business model, and successfully serviced clients across two countries and two industries,” Athina said. She also stated that if given a million dollars, it would be invested in purchasing new equipment and setting up long-term hubs in two major locations in Tanzania.
According to Athina, the startup’s most successful form of marketing has been by referrals and word of mouth through business networks. “As a new company trying to build a new industry, happy and satisfied business customers are the key to acquiring new customers. Particularly in established industries like tourism, where businesses tend to follow the pack,” she said.