Lorna Rutto and Charles Kalama, of Nairobi, Kenya, are a small part of the solution to the world’s growing waste problem.
As a planet, we generate over 600,000 metric tons of waste per day, 2,800 tons of which is generated in Nairobi. Much of the waste in Nairobi is littered throughout the city, due to inadequate policing and absence of other options for waste disposal.
The company which Lorna and Charles co-founded, EcoPost, takes Nairobi’s plastic waste and makes it into environmentally friendly lumber.
EcoPost removes approximately 40 tons of plastic waste from the environment per month. They either buy factory waste or pay waste collectors around Nairobi to bring them the used plastic. EcoPost buys waste from the waste collectors for around 20 Kenyan shillings per kilogram (about US$0.24 /kg). Waste collectors bring in about 1.5 metric tons of plastic waste on an average day.
Once EcoPost receives the waste plastic, it is shredded, washed and dried, melted and put into molds to make 100% recyclable plastic fencing and sign posts. The products are already popular among both sign companies and ranch/farming companies in Kenya, which make up about 75% of EcoPost’s sales. This fencing provides a few additional advantages to the user: it is as strong as ordinary timber, not prone to termite attack, and durable. Lastly, it won’t be stolen to be used as firewood or scrap metal, as timber and steel often are in Kenya.
EcoPost is not only helping the environment by removing waste, it also helps to conserve forests in Kenya. To date, EcoPost has saved 250 acres of forest in its production of over 20,000 posts. The cedar tree is almost extinct in Kenya, due to high demand for fencing material. In fact, there is currently a government directive to protect the cedar tree and EcoPost can provide a good alternative consistent with this directive.
While contributing to waste cleanup and saving trees, EcoPost is also helping to reduce poverty in Kenya. The EcoPost factory employs 25 full time permanent employees, who would otherwise not be likely to earn a living wage. EcoPost recruited these people from a nearby slum, and many have moved to better locations and facilities upon being employed for some time. They have hired at-risk youth as waste collectors, most of whom were homeless with few prospects, prior to this opportunity. Many of the waste collectors have started to run their own waste collection sites where they can manage other waste collectors. A few have also been promoted to work in the EcoPost factory. Including the waste collectors around Nairobi, EcoPost employs over 300 people who would otherwise be living in poverty.
EcoPost was profitable in 2012 with sales estimated at US$165,000. EcoPost has more orders on hand than it can accommodate with its existing faclities and equipment. It plans on sales growing to in excess of US$600,000 in 2013. If it can remedy some capacity constraints, the company envisions a bright future.
As they adjust to meet demand and overcomes the inevitable obsacles associated with growth, Lorna and Charles will be helping the environment, creating jobs and making money. That’s a nice combination and an achievements that every impact investor can appreciate.