South African Entrepreneur Is Turning Plastic Waste Into Solar-Powered School Bags

Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane founded Rethaka Repurpose Schoolbags, a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures school bags from upcycled plastic waste, integrating solar technology that charges the bag during the day and doubles as a night light after dark.

For many students living in rural parts of South Africa, the final bell at the end of the day doesn’t just signify the end of the school day, it also signifies the start of a trek that spans many kilometres through dangerous roads to get home. The innovative Repurpose Schoolbag uses reflective material that effectively increases the visibility of children as they walk to and from school each day, making their trip more safe. The smart solar technology feature also means that students who do not have access to electricity can study at home. “One of the first obstacles these kids face is not being able to finish their homework,” says Kgatlhanye. “If a child doesn’t have access to light then as soon as the sun goes down there is no time to do anything but sleep”. The Repurpose Schoolbag provides up to 12 hours of light for reading & doing homework.

“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. “Rethaka was started out of a need to tell a different story of what is possible for young people starting businesses in Mogwase (a township in the North-West province). When you start looking at township economics, you ask: ‘Can we employ people who don’t really have a lot of skills? Can we take waste, and turn waste into work?’ Some of those questions we have been confident in answering with a very bold, ‘Yes!”

Thanks to this ecopreneur the children in South Africa now have a brighter future.


Written by: Fattima Mahdi

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