Meet the woman turning polythene bags to durable backpacks in Uganda

Interview


Africa is brimming with a generation of venturers; entrepreneurs and innovators who are constantly establishing new businesses and developing new technologies to meet needs, solve problems, simplify lives and transform societies.

Faith Aweko is one such venturer; she is tackling environmental pollution and changing the lives of school children simultaneously with her polythene bag upcycling which she does by ironing and stitching polythene bags together. In this interview, she tells us why she chose recycling and the challenges of managing a recycling business in Uganda.

What does your company do? 

Reform Africa is a social venture and recycling company that transforms plastic waste into durable, sustainable and waterproof school bags for children.

What made you start your company? 

Growing up, my entire life revolved around the rain. Living in a slum community in Kampala meant that when it rained all of my classes were cancelled and I would have to miss school, something that saddened me deeply. 

Even worse, during unforgiving seasons of rain, homes in our neighbourhood would get a flood. I remember the days when it would rain so heavily that my family and I would have to spend the entire night draining water out of our home.

These harsh conditions were one of the consequences of having poor garbage and plastic waste disposal systems in the area. Poor management of waste meant clogged drainage channels which, of course, exacerbated the recurring flooding. Reflecting on the hardships of my past, I decided to use my experience and knowledge to make a positive change in my community.

What is unique about your service?

We use plastic waste as a resource to make the bags and accessories

Tell us a little about your team.

We are a team of three women; Rachel Mema, a refugee from Congo; Naluyima Shamim, a Ugandan from Bwaise; and myself. We all experienced similar problems as a result of poor waste management growing up.

What is most challenging about running your business?

Most Ugandans are ignorant about proper waste management and disposal. Although we upcycle waste, we still get challenges from the local people on how they manage waste. People do not sort their waste and it makes it hard and expensive to gather them from landfills, sort, then wash and dry.

How do you market your business?

I do most of my marketing on social media and also through my sales partners.

How do you price your product?

Different rates for tourists and school kids. Tourists pay UGX50,000 for our bags and we sell at UGX20,000 to school children.

Olawale Adebiyi CEO, Wecyclers. Credit - Wecyclers
Reform Africa bags. Credit – Reform Africa

With your present ‘industry knowledge and experience, would you have done anything differently while starting your business? 

Yes. I would have managed resources and branded my business better. All these I have learned in the course of the business.

What gives you the most satisfaction as an entrepreneur? 

The fact that my business tackles environmental pollution.

What government policies in your country would create a better environment for your business?

Environmental taxation. 

Also, plastic manufacturers should be taxed per ton of products produced. The money can be used by the informal recycling sector to increase the wages of waste pickers and collectors. 

Companies who do not want to be taxed per ton of plastics produced should be made to invest in recycling like Coca-cola is doing with the collection of plastic bottles. This way, we’d have less waste in Uganda and also a value for waste.

How do you plan to scale up?

By getting a license for our products and increasing our sales location.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to set up a business? 

Provide more than just a product. Always ask yourself, what solution does my product solve?