Business partners Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane. Picture:

Business partners Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane. Picture:

Two young South African women are making their mark in Africa through recycling and upcycling plastic waste.  

For business partners, Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane, their relationship began as childhood friends. After many years, they successfully started a green social start-up company called Repurpose Schoolbags which launched in 2014.

Through the use of recycling, solar energy and education, the company makes school bags for children. The bags are made from 100% recycled plastic and also have a solar panel that charges during the day while the children are walking to school. This panel serves as a source of light at night when the children need to study or do homework.

For many children living in rural parts of South Africa, walking long distances to school, often unaccompanied by an adult, is a reality. Therefore, the bags also have reflective strips on them. This serves as a safety feature should children be walking in the dark to or from school.

Kgatlhanye and Ngwane said their business has grown since 2014 and now employs eight full-time staff, six of which are women.

Recycling and upcycling

The business gets its plastic waste from landfill sites and local schools that run plastic recycling campaigns. The waste is then taken to a workshop where it is processed into textile and is thereafter sewn into bags. The workshop currently has the capacity to produce about 20 school bags per day.

Kgatlhanye and Ngwane said they were proud of their initiative as it has helped reduce plastic waste in the environment and has also restored dignity to school children in rural areas, who in some cases, have to carry their school books in plastic packets.

They added that the design of the bag has also helped provide a light source in homes at night and provide an element of safety with the bag’s reflective strips.