Until recently, BOCOM International, a lead export company based in Cameroon, Africa, found success in the export of lead from automobile batteries to other nations. As the global price for lead has dropped over the past two years, so has the potential for BOCOM’s business.
A ton of batteries yields approximately half a ton of lead and acid, as well as large amounts of plastic. The plastic has been stored for nearly five years, with little purpose, until now. The global recession has inspired the company to diversify production and find creative ways to recycle existing material. The plastic casing is now being used to produce synthetic roofing tiles, a fairly new technology in Africa.
Experts argue that plastic roofing tiles are resistant to corrosion, unlike the traditional aluminum sheets typically used in building construction across Africa. They are less expensive to purchase and help reduce heat, two key selling points for the recycled material. Other key benefits to the material include being lightweight, water resistant and durable.
The company has provided a community benefit from the new recycling process as well. In hard economic times, many people are gathering plastic waste and old dumped car batteries to sell to the company. The company buys the plastic to use in the roofing tiles, providing much needed funds to the community and inadvertently removing plastic and hazardous battery waste from the environment.
Though relatively new to Africa, the recycled plastic roofing industry has been around in the U.S. for years. RPM Roofing, a U.S.-based company that specializes in recycled plastic roofing tiles, estimates that 6 percent of the $35 billion industry is based on demand for plastic roofing. Though asphalt shingles still dominate the market at 61 percent, the demand for plastic roofing increases each year.
The EPA estimates that more than 170 million tons of building-related waste materials from construction and demolition projects are generated each year (2003), with approximately 1 to 10 percent of that number being asphalt roofing materials. In this global recession, getting creative with waste materials as BOCOM International is doing might provide a break to the landfills, while providing much needed revenue for companies at the same time.