From plastic to desks: Mombasa youth-owned start ups feted for turning trash to cash

Twende Eco-Cycle's Lawrence Kosgei displays one of the chairs they made at Swahilipot in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

One of the most noxious forms of pollution in the wake of climate change is linked to plastic.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes daily.

The agency also adds that between 19 and 23 million tonnes of plastic find its way into aquatic ecosystems, creating a new form of pollution in lakes, rivers and oceans.

This has led to the push of circular economies as a way of curbing this kind of pollution, including the Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organization, which has been pushing manufacturers to take responsibility for the plastic and other forms of waste that are linked to the packaging of their products.

As the world grapples with this challenge, youth groups in Mombasa are turning the festering wound into a pearl of wisdom.

In the last six months, nine youth-owned start-ups collected and recycled 8.4 tonnes of plastic waste in the county with the aim of conserving the environment and protecting marine life.

Interestingly, what started as a passion to reverse the effects of plastic pollution has turned out to be a source of revenue, employing 545 youths in the coastal resort city.

The groups have attracted the attention of key players like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Mombasa County Government.

They are hoping that their links to the two entities and dignitaries like King Charles and the ‘’first daughter”, Charlene Ruto, are the springboard they have been yearning for in their quest for an innovative take-off.

One of the groups, Twende Eco Green, has produced over 20 eco-desks to be supplied to a school in Elgeyo Marakwet County after landing an order from Ms Ruto. 

“We have supplied prototypes to schools in Mombasa and made 20 to be delivered to schools in Elgeyo Marakwet courtesy of an order placed by Ms Charlene Ruto,” said Lawrence Kosgei.

Kosgei, a director at Twende Eco Green, says the group has the capacity to supply up to 100 eco-desks, although it has to outsource shredding and compressing machines from Nairobi.

“These machines are capital intensive but we hope to buy them one day so that we can increase our production and expand our market,” he adds.

Other groups are Ecocycle, Plastic Taka Creatives, Oceania Pacesetter, Team Furies, Rafiki Peps, Clean Tech Collectors, Eco-Print Generations and Plas-Tech.

Oceania Pacesetters said they make Kshs 80,000 a month and are working on more strategies to expand their production to collect plastic waste from schools and households.

The startups were part of the six-month Mombasa Plastics Prize (MPP) incubation programme, that was funded by USAID. The international agency equipped them with critical skills to combat marine plastic pollution.

USAID programme manager at Challenge Works, Ms Naomi Whitbourn, says the startups have generated solutions that can be adopted both locally and internationally.

She adds that the startups highlight the innovative strides made ahead of International Plastic Free Day 2024, by pushing the region closer to achieving a plastic-free environment.

“The evolution marks the culmination of a rigorous incubation period where these startups were equipped with critical skills to combat marine plastic pollution,” quips Whitbourn.

She says the 8.2 tonnes of plastic waste collected makes a difference in the conservation of marine life and the environment while economically empowering the communities.

“The plastic waste was collected during the incubation period and 545 green jobs were created. It is no surprise that your solutions have attracted even a meeting with King Charles,” says Whitbourn.

Close the Gap Chief Finance Officer, Ngosa Mupela, says they were trained to turn ideas into viable businesses, open bank accounts, have financial portfolios, and pitch for businesses.

“Our role is to turn the ideas into viable businesses. Only three groups had formalised business bank accounts and finance portfolios when we started. We have made sh500,000 from sales within a short period among one set of groups. We have developed skills to formulate market strategies that will scale your businesses,” adds Mupela.

Clean Eco Collectors co-founder, Dennis Mwangi, says they had 24 master classes, translating to 144 hours of coaching and 166 hours of individual coaching to make the incubation a success.

However, the startups says they face challenges in terms of marketing, funding for the purchase of capital-intensive machines, and goodwill from the government in terms of policies.

Mombasa Governor Adbulswamad Nassir has pledged his support to the Twende Eco-Cycle by ensuring that all the Early Child Development is equipped with eco-desks.