A school in Lagos, Nigeria, Morit International School (MIS), is accepting plastic bottles in exchange for payment of student’s school fees. The school’s proprietor, Patrick Nbamarah thought up the idea when he realised that children were been withdrawn from school due to their parent’s inability to pay their fees. “My passion is to see children of all ages in school and because I do not want them roaming the streets during school hours. I sat down to think of an alternative way of meeting up with school fees because we also need money, however little, to run the school,” said Nbamarah.

Nbamarah contacted African Clean-Up Initiative (ACI) and WeCyclers and together they launched the Recycles Pay Education project to lessen the financial burden on parents, keep children in school and simultaneously promote a green environment. Situated in Ajegunle, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Lagos, MIS was established five years ago to provide affordable education for children of low-income earners, still, parents struggle to meet up with payments.

The school’s fee ranges from N7,200 ($20) to N8,200 ($22) per term for nursery and primary sections respectively, and each plastic sells for N1. Therefore 7,200 plastics make up the fee for a nursery pupil while a primary school pupil needs to bring 8,200 empty plastic bottles. The plastics are submitted on designated days with the recycling company present to purchase them. The money is then paid into the school account.

Sometimes, the plastics are submitted in bits until the required quantity is met. Other times, parents are allowed to balance up the plastics with cash if they cannot submit the required quantity. So far, the response has been great, so much so that parents are asking the school to become some form of financial institution. The parents are enjoying the programme … They want the school to collect plastic wastes in exchange for cash to enable them to attend other needs,” Nbamarah said.

To rid the environment of more waste, the school is working on a project where empty water sachets will be the form of payment. “This will remove plastic and nylon wastes from gutters, drainages and canals,” he said. Nbamarah has appealed to environmentalists and the government to partner with the school on the Recycles Pay Education project by providing a larger space for the storage of plastic bottles.

Nbamarah’s unconventional initiative was first launched by a couple in India, Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar, founders of Akshar Forum, a school for underprivileged students in Assam where the only form of payment is plastic. Like Nbamarah is doing here in Lagos, Akshar Forum is making education affordable while building an intersection between education and sustainability. These innovative initiatives are timely as the world battles the harmful proliferation of plastic wastes, seeking ways to decrease it.

According to a report by National Geographic, there are 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste and only nine percent of that has been recycled. The vast majority of that is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. “If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building,” Laura Parker writes.

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