In her Twitter account the 34-year-old describes herself as “a change-maker and multi-passionate social entrepreneur with a vision to have a Green Africa free from poverty”.
I just wanted to find a way to get rid of all that plastic!
As a small girl in Kenya, Lorna Rutto turned plastic litter into earrings. As an adult disturbed by plastic waste in her country, she founded EcoPost, a social enterprise collecting and recycling plastic waste. The waste is used to manufacture a variety of products ranging from road signs to garden furniture and equipment.
Lorna Rutto is a Kenyan eco-preneur, and the inspiring founder of EcoPost, a social enterprise created in response to the need to find alternative waste management solutions to Kenya's huge plastic waste problem. In 2009 she founded her company, which collects plastic waste and manufactures commercially viable, highly durable, and importantly environmentally friendly fencing posts, used widely across Kenya. In 2011, Lorna was recognised by the prestigious Cartier Women's Initiative Awards as their laureate for sub-Saharan Africa.
Lorna has not only provided Kenya with a commercial alternative to timber, but has in the process created over 300 jobs, generated much needed revenues, saved over 250 acres of forests and taken over 1 million kilogrammes of plastic waste out of the environment. Her efforts have won her numerous plaudits and awards, both at home and abroad.
Our vision is “To Transform Africa’s Waste into Wealth”. We use waste plastic as a resource to manufacture aesthetic, durable, easy to use and environmentally friendly plastic lumber. Our aim is to create a sustainable solution to the growing plastic waste menace, provide a suitable alternative material so that we reduce the cutting down of trees and create job opportunities to reduce poverty."
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
Lorna has been troubled by this plastic litter ever since she was a schoolgirl. At the time she used to collect bits left lying around and turn them into 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!’ After graduating in commerce and accounting five years ago, she started a career in banking to play safe in a tough employment market, but ‘something felt wrong; I was working on systems and structures and not with people and science, which had been my other passion at school. I wasn’t comfortable about it.’ Two years ago, she took the entrepreneurial plunge. Her love of the environment found an echo with a young biochemical engineer she met at her first job, now her business partner, who brings his technical expertise to her financial and managerial know-how. After researching potential avenues for their cause they found that plastic was the best place to start, much to Lorna’s delight!
PROTECTING TIMBER RESOURCES
Kenya has barely 2% of forest cover, yet high demand for posts to make fencing around the country’s houses, plantations and huge game reserves. For years these were made from red cedar trees, which are now an endangered species; a presidential directive has made it illegal to chop them down since 2007. Those looking for an alternative can bank on EcoPost, which recycles waste and helps the environment. Every month, EcoPost uses approximately 20 tonnes of plastic waste. Utilising dirty plastic to make a product that saves wood is not just an environmental plus, it boosts employment: alongside its 15 permanent staff, to source its raw material EcoPost hires the services of hundreds of women working as casual labour to collect the plastic and sell it to them by the kilo. More jobs should be forthcoming; demand for its product is so high, EcoPost can barely keep up and is seeking capital influx to rapidly scale up. It has already acquired a new extrusion machine that will double current output to 7,200 posts a quarter, an eightfold increase since the company started. Rising timber prices are another good factor for greater growth potential. ( Cartier Women's Inicative, 2011)
By providing an alternative to timber we conserve our forests & maintaining them as water catchments areas. Forests act as carbon sinks by removing CO2 from the atmosphere hence mitigating climate change.
Today, EcoPost is an entrepreneurial and an environmental corporate success story. The venture not only provides an effective solution to the management of the huge amounts of plastic waste created in Kenya each day, but also converts this waste into usable fencing products that in turn conserve forests that are under threat from logging. EcoPost is also directly providing a solution to the terrible unemployment situation in the country, creating over 300 jobs for young people and women who were previously marginalised in society. Going forward, the EcoPost business model is looking to create 100,000 jobs over the next 15 years. Its eco-footprint is no less impressive, with the company removing over 1 million kilos of plastic waste from Kenya's urban slums, and saving around 250 acres of precious forest in the country.
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Pic by Lorna Rutto
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