A group of youth in Mombasa is making desks using plastic waste, thereby reducing the plastic waste menace, creating jobs, saving trees, and solving the problem of inadequate furniture in primary schools.
The co-founders of the Twende Green Eco-cycle say the desks are comfortable but also 20 per cent cheaper than those made from timber. The group plans to expand and supply desks countrywide.
Mr Lawrence Kosgei, one of its members said he joined the group because he used uncomfortable, broken, and chipped desks that made his primary school studies a struggle.
Kosgei is a graduate of Chemical Engineering from the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) but says the struggle in primary school over 10 years ago is fresh in his mind.
“I never stopped thinking about the struggle primary school children go through during their studies due to lack of desks. It is agonising for four or five of them to share a tiny desk or sit on the floor,” he said.
Kosgei, Churchill Muriuki, Faraj Ramadhan, and Zainab Mahmoud have been able to make school desks from plastic waste that would otherwise find its way to the ocean and landfills.
The team is currently working on 20 desks to be delivered to Elgeyo Marakwet County courtesy of an order placed by the first daughter, Ms Charlene Ruto.
In an interview, Ms Ruto said she aims to promote the youth in their eco-friendly lucrative venture while saving the environment of plastic waste and providing desks to schools.
“I was impressed by the innovation of Twende Green Eco-cycle and decided to buy the desk for a school at Elgeyo Marakwet that lacks desks but to also promote efforts against plastic pollution,” said Ms Ruto.
Kosgei said an eco-desk takes up 13 Kilogrammes of plastic waste, meaning they will use 260 Kilogrammes of plastic waste from the ocean to make 20 desks ordered by Ms Ruto.
Studies show that Mombasa County generates approximately 120 tonnes of plastic waste daily; five per cent is recycled, and a significant portion is dumped into the ocean due to poor disposal habits.
An eco-desk goes for Sh5,500 compared to the wooden desk sold for between Sh7,500 to Sh8,500. The team said that once they start bulk production, the price will go down to affordable rates for parents whose children will be joining junior secondary.
“We are bringing in a new innovation where we are using plastic waste to make school desks, promote circularity, and promote sustainable education in Mombasa,” he said.
She said that they intended to import modern pressing molding machines but it was too expensive for them and they were forced to innovate local ones to be sold to other groups undertaking similar ventures.
The group has partnered with the government of Mombasa and is set to supply all public primary schools in the county with eco-desks.
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For Muriuki, a 22-year-old third-year student of Chemical Engineering at Moi University, the project and MPP have taught him a lot about the environment and how to solve problems surrounding him and turn the same into a business.
“I have learned that in every problem I see in society, there is always an opportunity to make something good out of it and create a positive impact for me and the community at large,” says Muriuki.
As a quality control manager, Muriuki has been able to apply his background in chemical engineering to the whole process of manufacturing the eco-desks by ensuring they abide by the standards required by the law.
He says Twende Green Eco-cycle plans to diversify to different products, including house furniture to recycle more plastic waste and elevate their business venture. However, Muriuki said it has been hard to change the mindset of people as they are used to traditional wooden desks and furniture.
“As we all know, existing furniture and desk in every school is made from wood. So, it has been a challenge for people to embrace eco-friendly desks and furniture. We believe it is a process, and we will convince the people and expand the market,” said Muriuki.
The group is also researching and learning how to recycle other light plastics to increase the volume of recycled plastics from the ecosystem.
Muriuki said as much as they try, they cannot recycle all the plastics from the environment and they believe in making change through behavioural change among the young children.
“We believe in effecting change through behavioural change among the young generation as early as possible. That is why we have the Twende Green Eco-cycle clubs where we teach children about separating plastic waste and waste management and how they can be the change we want to see in the world today,” said Muriuki.
For Faraj Ramadhan , Chief Finance Officer of the group, the project has given them employment and financial freedom, creating jobs for themselves in a county where youth unemployment was over 80 per cent.
They have employed other youths and women in the informal settlement who sell them plastic waste. Equally, the welders have a share of income from the innovative venture.