Ruth Gathii, a student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, is among the winners of a competition that encourages innovation to achieve sustainable development goals. Ms. Gathii won second-place at the annual #MyLittleBigThing competition run by MK-Africa and Cambridge University in South Africa for her innovative business idea of turning used plastics to décor. She plans to curb environmental pollution by addressing the perennial threat of plastic waste which has caused long-lasting damage to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Addressing the hundreds of young people who had gathered for the award gala, Ms. Gathii said that the motivation for her invention was to reduce poverty by creating a business that converts waste into useful products.
“My project seeks to address the first and third sustainable development goals. The project itself is the establishment of direct exchange centers in slums whereby the very low-income earners can come and directly exchange their kilos of plastic for food, decent second-hand clothing, and sanitary items. In addition to this such families are also able to sell their extra kilos to this exchange centers,” said Ms. Gathii.
She added that the project would not only help to drive down poverty rates but would also contribute towards a plastics waste-free environment.
“Collection of plastics ensures that there is a clean environment which fosters good health and wellbeing. I believe that if a family is able to provide decent meals every day, is able to add into their household finances and also able to live in a clean environment then such a family is far from being labeled poor,” she said.
The world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic waste annually and only 9 percent of it is recycled. Plastics take thousands of years to decompose and have a negative impact on the environment.
Liz Kiambi a Program Design Assistant at African Wildlife Foundation, and who has championed AWF’s youth strategy said that it is important to involve the youth in designing solutions for the biggest environmental and conservation challenges facing the world today.
“Young people are the leaders of today and tomorrow. If they learn how to make the right decisions for the environment today, we will not have the same problems that we are having right now trying to get buy-in from the government and donors because these are the people who will be sitting in those positions tomorrow,” she said.
AWF and World Wildlife Fund in May this year hosted a youth conference that brought together over 50 young conservation and development practitioners from across Africa to discuss how to better protect the environment and to save Africa’s declining biodiversity.