A shining example of up-cycling ! Cindy's blog Jan 30 2018

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As in many of my blogs, I admit that the plastic waste situation may not be brought under control so I like to highlight creative people who  are using the garbage for good. This blog is about two young women in South Africa who built a company that creates re-purposed schoolbags that address more than one issue in the lives of South African children. I love this story!

For many kids living in rural and non-electrified parts of South Africa, the final school bell doesn’t just signal the end of another day of learning. Instead, it also means the beginning of an arduous trek through busy and dangerous roads to get back home in time to complete their homework before sunset. Millions of school children in South Africa walk long distances to and from school on a daily basis. Once they return home, many of them are unable to study at night due to the absence of secure light sources.

For Thato Kgatlhanye, this was all too familiar. She saw it every day in her hometown of Rustenburg, a mining community in the North West province of South Africa and the young entrepreneur decided to do something about it.

“This is our home. The reason we started this business is we looked at our community and we wanted to do work that matters,” explains Kgatlhanye.

That work turned into Repurpose Schoolbags – the first green initiative from Rethaka, a social startup  Kgatlhanye co-founded alongside childhood friend-turned-business partner Rea Ngwane. Rethaka Ltd., a for-profit, woman-owned business, came up with the inspiring idea of Repurpose Schoolbags.

The millennial pair — aged just 23 and 24 years old respectively — are taking advantage of the plastic waste in their region, upcycling it into 100% recycled plastic schoolbags for local disadvantaged students. The company collects plastic bags from landfills and participating schools, and recycles them into textiles which are then used to make the bags.

Repurpose Schoolbags bring together recycling, solar energy and education for children. Designed to do more with less, they are made from 20 recycled plastic bags. There is a built-in solar panel that charges on the walk to and from school, which later transforms into a light for children to study after dark.

There are strips of reflective material, an added safety design to make the children more visible to traffic in the early hours. The solar panel that turns into a desk lamp providing up to 12 hours of light for reading & doing homework.

Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it can be directly lifesaving. The use of kerosene lamps by those who don’t have electricity can be deadly, and given that some 11.4 million learners walk to school daily, then it’s an ideal means for providing the ability for children to study without any unnecessary risk.

From carrying their books in a plastic bag or having no schoolbag at all, by giving a child a Repurpose Schoolbag, it helps to make a change to that child’s life by encouraging that child to commit to staying in school.

One principal, from a school located in rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, shared with us that teachers are giving learners homework for the first time as a result of learners receiving Repurpose Schoolbags as students are finally able to study home.

The other bonus to this up-cycling is that there are now 20 women employed to make the bags so the company helps the community be self-sufficient and has created quite the little industry.

This is the company, Rethaka’s, motto.

We start with having the audacity to uplift communities with uplifting ideas. We use innovation as a means for social change. We thrive on thinking differently about inherited struggles and daring to realise we already have in these, the solutions we seek. We make problems work for us, not control us.

Meet Thato Kgatlhanye, the young woman bringing together recycling and solar technology to help township children study once the sun has gone down