They say that necessity is the mother of innovation… And Lorna Rutto, the founder of ECOPOST, a sustainable Kenya-based green business could not agree more. She grew up in the green region of Kaptembwa, enjoying nice landscapes and the joys of buoyant nature. However, in the mid 90’s, in the aftermath of large rural-urban migrations, acres of trees were cut down for human settlement. Her nice forested village soon turned into a dirty little town, invaded with plastic waste, clogging sewages, encroaching houses everywhere. Deeply upset by this very gloomy picture, Lorna promised herself to do something against the obvious damages to the environment around her, convinced that: “Waste is not waste until it is wasted”.
An overwhelming passion for the environment
As the years went by, she completed her studies in commerce and accounting and eventually moved to Nairobi, where she landed a safe job at a local bank. But still something felt wrong. The mountains of useless plastic waste scattered around the capital city kept haunting her. Determined to bring about a viable solution to recycling plastic waste, she carried out numerous research, developed a business model to transform plastic waste into posting fences and eventually partnered with one of colleagues, a biochemical engineer equally passionate by saving the environment. ECOPOST was born…
As a young woman, Lorna Rutto was very often confronted with negative comments, questioning her ability to operate in male-dominated industry. When meeting potential business partners she would be scrutinized about her motives and expertise. The funniest comments to her, as she mentions, were that people told her that she was definitely crazy for leaving a well-paid job to scavenge trash all around the city.
The new venture soon faced many challenges, deficient equipment, low electricity supply and limited access to capital that put her team on serious strain to produce their items and even to pay the factory rent. As the saying goes fortune favours the bold… and a life changing opportunity was just around the corner: the Enablis Business Award a business competition for young Kenyan startups. Quite unexpectedly, Lorna won the pitch contest and was granted with the capital that brought her business to the next level.
A social entreprise that is making a difference
Launched in 2009, ECOPOST has successfully created 50 direct jobs over 500 indirect jobs among marginalized youth and women who collect and sort waste before selling it to ECOPOST for a fair price that allow to make decent livings. The Nairobi based company is well-oiled machine relying on several collection centres across the city, and a main processing plant. The collected plastic is not only transformed into esthaetic, durable and environment friendly posts but it is a great alternative to timber. Over the years, ECOPOST has been able to save more than 250 acres of forest. In a country, where deforestation is a growing challenge, only 2% forest coverage nowadays compared to 10% in 1998. With an annual revenue of $ 150,000 and removal of over 1,000 tonnes of plastic waste from the environment, ECOPOST is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The needs are real in the local market. Clients range from farmers, home owners, wildlife institutions, hotels, to sign companies among others.
Lorna‘s contribution did not stay unnoticed. She was awarded with numerous prizes to only name a few: the Future Africa Awards Prize in Technology in 2014, the World Wildlife Fund’s Nature Award, and earlier in 2011 the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award.
This is only the beginning…
Lorna’s vision to add value to waste does not stop here. Her next goal is for the 5 coming years to turn ECOPOST into a fully integrated waste management company and a leader on the Kenyan market and beyond. Indeed, the market is huge and opportunities in recycling waste in Africa are manifold.
As resources like wood become scarcer and damages to the environment remains a daily challenge, Africans will need to reduce waste and recycle more. Waste is literally everywhere and its potential has not been exhausted by any means from waste collection, inorganic and organic waste processing etc.
Lorna is a living proof that it is possible to create a viable, sustainable and environmental business in Africa, while at the same time positively impacting on local communities.
To her success!