Society

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Challenging environmental conditions is no more a concern for just an individual, state or a country. These issues have universal echoes. Look around to find how plastic is a menace everywhere. And this is what makes Lorna Rutto a hero for everyone. The lady was a banker until 2009, when she decided to set up Ecopost, a company manufacturing recycled plastic lumber fencing posts, an alternative to timber fencing posts in Kenya. "We have a joke that plastic is our national flower. It is flying everywhere, lying everywhere. It is that big a problem. And now as we speak, there is huge outcry and debate against the recent plastic ban in our country. A sizeable population in our country doesn't have access to toilets so they defecate in the open. So, people carry plastic bags and relieve themselves in the open. And they just fling it. It's possible that one such polybag hits your face," says Lorna.

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Through Ecopost, Lorna seeks to reduce the amount of plastic currently infesting Kenya by recycling it. In Ecoposts's two factories are produced 1000 pieces of plastic lumber which go into the making of floor tiles, shelters for refugees, slums, signposts. And in the process, it generates around several job opportunities for people directly or indirectly. Kenya, known for its wildlife, had started to witness a loss in its green cover coming down to 2 percent. "During my research, I found out that 200,000 timber pieces were making their way to the market every day. You can imagine the number of trees being cut. Thirty pieces produced by Ecopost saves 1 full matured tree. The number of trees being cut down has reduced," exults Lorna.

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The young ecopreneur was one of the nine winners of Sri Sathya Sai Award for Human Excellence 2017. When Lorna started off with a factory in a dumping site in 2009, she had not anticipated the day when she would have to struggle to meet the demand. "We need to scale up to produce about 5000 pieces. Fencing posts are hugely popular in Kenya. As the government expands road network, there is a need for signposts and with metal networks, what was happening was stealing. People would cut it and sell it. Even in refugee shelters, they would cut off timber and sell it off. And now, we are not just selling it to individuals or the government in Kenya but also neighbouring countries. The UN is buying material for refugee shelters from us. It's affordable, durable and aesthetic."

At a time when about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are believed to be floating in our oceans, we can do with not just banning of plastic but also innovative ideas to deal with the existing amount of plastic. Like in Bengaluru, waste collection is a problematic issue in several Kenyan cities as well. "During rains, plastic clogs the drainage system and when a large number of people live in poverty, you can't imagine, how it comes to affect their lives. During floods, this plastic flows right back into their homes. They live in such sad conditions. For me, I just connected a lot of dots. The desperation for jobs among the young, plastic menace, and poverty together made me think. For me, waste is not a waste until wasted and problems are not problems but challenges."

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Ecopost currently engages with the marginalised section of the society. About 80 per cent of her employees are women who collecting, segregate and supply the required waste to her and work at her factories. "The waste collection system is operated by the authorities but is clearly not working. I tried to remove the middlemen. There are different groups of women each headed by a woman leader who operates in different areas. They segregate and supply waste to me. They are independent so they can give it to anyone. I give them shredding machines and over a period, I deduct the amount from their payments. so, over time, they also come to own shredding machines." So far, she has created 15 such groups. Lorna feels that with the urgent need of jobs and young falling prey to drugs and crime, one needs to come up with ideas. "I also feel that one need not wait for government approvals and sanctions. Had I waited, I would have never got started. I started with 5000 USD. Borrow from your family and start if you are convinced about an idea," says Lorna who also imparts training in management skills to young people. "We recently worked with a group of young men who were into drugs. We had a competition where all of them came up with a set of chairs, floor beds, gate," adds Lorna who wants to create 2000 job opportunities and 200 entrepreneurs.

Grateful for the award, she says for small level entrepreneurs like her, it works as a stepping stone. "It gives us a validation, networking opportunities. You can't imagine how this small boost helps us in the long run."

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 7:36:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/in-kenya-lorna-rutto-has-found-a-unique-way-to-recycle-plastic/article20968705.ece

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