Transforming waste to wealth


[Image] Lorna Rutto from Kenya has been named
the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards 2011
laureate for sub-Saharan Africa.
(Image: Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards)

[Image] EcoPost uses 100% recycled plastics to
manufacture durable and eco-friendly
fencing posts.
(Image: EcoPost)

posts-text2 EcoPost has created opportunities for
unemployed youth and women, who
make a living by collecting, sorting
and cleaning plastic waste for reselling.
(Image: EcoPost)

Lorna Rutto
+254 721 953 768

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Wilma den Hartigh

Lorna Rutto from Kenya has been named the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards 2011 laureate for sub-Saharan Africa for her creative business idea of making fence posts from plastic waste.

The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards is an international business plan competition that was created in 2006 to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs.

It was established by renowned French jeweller and watchmaker Cartier; the Women’s Forum, the first forum of its kind that advances women’s empowerment; global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company; and the INSEAD business school.

Every year, six female entrepreneurs, each representing a major world region, are selected from 18 finalists. The Middle East and North Africa feature in their own award region, alongside Latin America, North America, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia-Pacific.

Each of the six laureates receives US$20 000 (R161 000), coaching for one year, and networking opportunities.

The awards initiative is playing an important role in helping women entrepreneurs succeed in the world of business.

”Starting up in business has been a taxing venture since 2009, with a sharp decline in access to funding,” says Bernard Fornas, president and CEO of Cartier.

“We are delighted to play our part in helping such enterprising women to develop and scale their businesses and bring bright ideas to the world.”

A bright idea making a difference

A desire to clean up the environment, coupled with a good business idea, is what inspired Rutto to establish EcoPost, which uses 100% recycled plastics to manufacture durable and eco-friendly fencing posts.

Her love for the environment was already evident from an early age when she started collecting discarded plastic to make earrings.

”Though it wasn’t really the earrings I was interested in, I just wanted to find a way to get rid of all that plastic!” she says.

Years later, she graduated with a commerce and accounting degree. She started her career in banking, but she never forgot her love for the environment.

Shortly afterwards, she quit her job and established EcoPost, now known internationally for its contribution to solving Kenya’s waste problem.

The company’s plastic fencing posts are versatile and suitable for fencing of farms, homes, national parks, game reserves and commercial premises such as cattle ranches and tourist resorts.

They can also be used as support beams for houses, cowsheds and garages.

Unlike wood, plastic fencing posts don’t rot; they aren’t prone to termite attacks; they are durable; cost-effective; easy to work with; and cannot be stolen for use as firewood.

A solution for waste

There is no shortage of recyclable plastic in Kenya. Nairobi alone generates more than 2 800 tons of waste every day, of which 20% is plastic.

Rutto’s EcoPost initiative provides an alternative management solution to the country’s plastic waste dilemma.

The Kenyan government banned the use of polythene bags, also known as “flimsy plastics”, in 2007. However, at the time the country was still producing millions of plastic bags.

Although the new regulations are in effect, the ban is largely been ignored and plastic bags are still in use.

Once the bags are discarded, they spoil the environment, or pile up in open waste tips or landfill sites.

Any plastic waste that can go through the extrusion process, which breaks down raw plastic, can be used.

“This includes plastic such as polypropylene and polyethylene – the material used to make those carrier bags that clog the landfills. We can recover and use all of these for our posts,” Rutto explains.

In its first eight months of operation, Rutto and her team produced 5 000 posts and removed 300 tons of plastic waste from the environment. Every month, EcoPost uses approximately 20 tons of plastic waste.

Plastic helps to save trees

EcoPost is also helping to preserve Kenya’s forests and cut down on deforestation. The plastic posts are an affordable alternative to timber, which reduces the need for fencing material manufactured from wood.

Kenya has about 2% forest cover, but the high demand for wood to produce fence posts for houses, plantations and game reserves is rapidly depleting the country’s remaining forests.

For many years fencing posts were made from Red Cedar trees. However, these trees are now endangered and since 2007 it is illegal to chop them down.

This is where Rutto’s EcoPosts are making a major difference. For every 25 posts sold, EcoPost saves a fully matured Red Cedar tree.

Creating jobs

The business has created opportunities for unemployed youth and women, who make a living by collecting, sorting and cleaning plastic waste for reselling.

EcoPost works in partnership with about 200 collectors and buys the waste from them at a rate per kilogram.

Rutto says that by the third year of operation, EcoPost aims to create 100 direct and more than 500 indirect jobs. Currently EcoPost employs 15 permanent staff.

She says that the demand for the product is growing so fast that soon they will have to expand their operations.

The business has already bought a new extrusion machine that will make it possible to double the number of fence posts manufactured per quarter.

She says the demand for their recycled plastic fence posts will also increase as timber becomes more expensive.

Future plans

For Rutto the most rewarding aspect of her business is doing what she loves most – caring for the environment, helping people overcome poverty and making a contribution to solving Kenya’s waste problem.

Before she was named as one of the winners, Rutto said in an interview that if she won, she would like to use her prize money to grow the business, improve the living standards of the women who work with the project and set up another ten waste collection yards.

“It will provide a great entrepreneurial opportunity not only for me but also for the women who will set up and run the additional collection yards,” she explained. “It will also enable us to secure enough raw materials to take our business to the next level,”

Now, she can do just that.