Faulting and badmouthing home countries is a fad for most people. Often times, citizens become expert critics of their nations; pointing out ills within their communities, with the young ever ready to hit the road in search for ‘greener pastures.’
Not so for Lorna Rutto, a firm believer of the principle- seek daily what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you.
Lorna is one of Africa’s greatest entrepreneurs; having carved a niche for herself in a male dominated business environment. Lorna always saw the need to be of service in whatever environment she found herself. As a school girl in Kenya, she was constantly bothered by the level of plastic litter in her environment, she started picking them and then turning them into earrings; her way of getting rid of them.
She says; ‘though it wasn’t really the earrings I was interested in—I just wanted to find a way to get rid of all that plastic!’
After graduating in commerce and accounting years ago, she started a career in banking, as most young graduates desire, in other to play safe in an environment where white collar jobs were thought to be the next biggest thing. But then she felt a certain emptiness and lack of fulfilment, like a sprinter who makes it to the finish line just to discover that he had run on someone else’s track.
Lorna knew it was time to retrace her steps and heed the call of destiny, “I was working on systems and structures and not with people and science, which had been my other passion at school. I wasn’t comfortable about it”.
In 2009, she resigned her banking job and went after her first love; environmental science. She discovered that the package was actually larger than she thought when she met Charles Kalama, a biochemical engineer who was also unemployed at the time. Immediately the team set to work, and after researching potential avenues for their cause, they found that plastic was the best place to start.
And as expected, the duo started their small business which they called EcoPost, a small plastic recycling business that uses plastic waste collected from dump sites and garbage cans across Nairobi to manufacture fencing posts. The business uses a simple manufacturing technique known as injection moulding to convert shredded and melted plastic into durable and environment-friendly posts. These posts are sold in the market and are used as fencing posts, sign posts and for building and construction purposes.
“Currently in Kenya thousand[s] of plastic bags and bottles litter our streets . . . and clog [our] sewers. Our business converts [this waste] into durable, affordable, cost effective and environmental friendly plastic poles,” Lorna explains.
She noticed that Nairobi, the Kenyan capital city, generates no less than 3,000 metric tonnes of waste every day and about 20 percent of this is usually plastic waste, and also that the demand and price for timber posts was on the increase due to short supply. Up to 200,000 timber posts were sold in and around Nairobi every month. If only she could produce an alternative to timber that was nearly as strong, longer lasting, cheaper, environmentally sustainable, and of course money-spinning, she thought.
Where people saw trash and impossibilities, Lorna saw cash and lots of opportunities. Today, she has become a power woman in business.
Her laudable innovation has won her numerous awards like the 2009 Enablis Business Award, the 2010 Bid Network Nature Challenge Award, 2010 SEED Award, the 2011 Sub-Saharan Africa Cartier Laureate and the WWF nature challenge national award which comes with a prize of 5,000 euros. Where she beat more than 120 other contestants.
In utter surprise the power woman says; ‘‘I can’t believe I have got this far, it’s a dream come true. The Awards have given us a real competitive advantage and have served as a major stepping stone for EcoPost.’’
Since winning the competition, she was named one of the 20 Youngest Power Women In Africa 2012 by Forbes and one of Africa’s top 25 Women Achievers by The Guardian. It is obvious how well Lorna has done not just for herself but for her country and indeed Africa.
Today, her innovative idea is building wealth, creating jobs for hundreds of Kenyans and preserving the environment. Within its first eight months of business, EcoPost manufactured more than 5,000 posts from nearly 300 tons of plastic waste, generating 700 jobs and saving roughly 500 trees that would have been cut down.
Every month, EcoPost uses approximately 20 tonnes of plastic waste. Utilising dirty plastic to make a product that saves wood is not just an environmental plus, it boosts employment: alongside its 15 permanent staff, to source its raw material EcoPost hires the services of hundreds of women working as casual labour to collect the plastic and sell it to them by the kilo.
It appears the leading lady has bigger plans for the future; “We are planning to increase our processing capacity, as well as introduce new products lines. These include roofing trusses, roofing tiles, support beams for low cost housing and plastic lumber for furniture making,” she says.
You still say you don’t have funds to start your own business? You should meet Lorna; she didn’t have funds too, but she had trash. So get up and make the most of whatever opportunity you have.