Making a killing from recycled plastic bags

Two women wear back packs made out of recycled kaveera. photo BY Dorothy Nakaweesi

What you need to know:

A team of youth at Reform Africa recycle plastic waste into water proof bags and accessories, Dorothy Nakaweesi explains.

Many times, what does not break you, makes you stronger.
This was the case for Ms Faith Aweko - a 25-year old lady. Growing up in Naguru slum, Aweko came face to face with the ghetto challenges and pain at a tender age.
Due to the poor waste management in Naguru slum, rain would flood the trenches, making them muddy. This would make it hard to move. But this meant that Aweko would miss school for fear of drowning.
When she joined Social Innovation Academy (SINA) in Mpigi in 2017, she was empowered through personal and professional growth to become a social entrepreneur through the problems in her community.

Swamped by garbage, Naguru slum propelled her to find ways of eliminating plastic waste.
In September 2018, Aweka was joined by a team of two young ladies who also faced a similar challenge.
One from Bwaise - Shamim Naliima - and another lady from Congo - Rachel Mwema who lived in Nakivale Refugee camp, were all passionate about saving the environment. This drove them to form a company called Reform Africa.
In March this year, after mastering the fusion of Kaveera, they started producing their first dual bags from plastic bags locally termed as “Kaveera.’’

Since floods often swept their books, forcing them to sometimes miss school, a new idea was born to solve this problem. Together with her friends, Aweka started collecting, recycling and making bags out of Kaveera.
The fact that there are very few solutions for these plastic bags in Uganda motivated her to zero down to recycling plastic bags.
Plastic bottles are being collected here and there with Coca Cola and other recycling companies. But the kaveeras are still there yet when they get into the environment; and later our agricultural land they are destructive,”Aweko, the team leader of Reform Africa, shares.
The ladies then embarked on a seven-month rigorous research, reading a lot about fusing plastics together to develop a thicker layer that is water proof, sustainable and durable – one you can use to stitch together to make the bags.

Production starts from collecting the Kaveera from dumpsites. This is done by a team of 10 women who the group pays a fairer rate compared to what the middlemen pay.
“When you look through the waste collectors, you find that 90 per cent who are collecting waste are cheated by the middlemen who pay them at a lower price,” Aweko shares.
So, the group pays Shs2,000 for each kilogramme of Kaveera collected. This is higher than the market rate of Shs1,000.
After collecting, the women sort, wash and dry the kaveera. Then it is taken to the workshop. Then the group starts fusing the plastics together.
Aweko says: “Currently, we do not have the technology to fuse it smoothly or in huge amounts. So, we are using the flat iron to fuse the plastics together.”
When fusing the Kaveera, the group moderates the heat until they come up with the stronger material that they want.
To get a quality and strong material that they eventually use to design the bags, the group fuses about 15 plastic bags (Kaveera).
When the material is ready, they cut it into different patterns and design the bags according to various specifications.
They make back packs, shopping bags, laptop bags, swim bags and cross bags. Their major products are back packs and school bags for children.
On average, the group makes 200 bags. Sometimes, this number slightly reduces.

Currently, they source their markets through their social media pages, where most of their clients access them.
Initially, when they produced the bags, the primary target market were school going chilldren. But the cost factor hindered many parents from buying the school bags for their children. This is why the group subsidised prices.
Their second target market are tourists and foreigners who fancy sustainability and climate change.
“Our clients are tourists or foreigners who come to Uganda because they care more about the environment and sustainability. The bags are light yet strong, durable and waterproof in that they dont have to worry about their laptop or their cameras,”Aweko shares.
She says initially, Ugandans didn’t’like their bags. But with time and several sensitization talks, they are slowly coming on-board.
The group has partnered with three shops in Kampala, which help them sell their products and these are; Ark Organics at Lower Kololo, Corner and ICI.
“We also have partner organisations that support hand-made products from Uganda who resell our bags to Europe, Israel, USA and we are soon opening up to working on one to be resold in Germany.
They have employed 10 women. Since they want the business to expand, they plough back most of the money and only get a little incentive after deducting all expenses.

Just like most start-ups, Reform Africa is challenged by technology.
“We still have not developed the technology to fuse the plastics. If we could develop a heat press machine that could fuse it, we could produce a finer, soft material and it would increase our capacity,” Aweko shared.
Each back pack and shopping bag costs Shs40,000, and the laptop bags cost Shs50,000 while the school bags for children range between Shs15,000 and Shs20,000.
The group which started with an initial investment of Shs100,000 in March this year, has seen their monthly sales grow to an average of Shs3 million to Shs4 million.