The journey of a woman from trash to cash
For Lorna Rutto, what started out as an errand for her father inspired the beginning of a venture that would positively transform her life.
Born in Kaptembwa slums in Nakuru County in 1984, Lorna came face to face with the harsh wrath of poverty that left many families in her neighborhood struggle to fend for themselves.
“As a landlord’s daughter, I would on some occasions be sent to collect rent and that’s how I came close to poverty. As much as the simple houses were not so costly, but still, many could not afford the rent and their living conditions really bothered me. They could hardly even afford a decent single meal,” she says.
The environment at the place she had called home was dilapidated.
“While growing up, Kaptembwa was a green, leafy and cool environment with plenty of trees that left you wanting to spend the rest of your days there. But due to rural-urban migration, the trees had to be cut down to give room for settlements,” says Lorna.
“With time, there were no more fish ponds and one by one, the number of trees started to dwindle. Our once beautiful home was now marred by rotting waste in the surrounding, clogged sewers and increased criminal activities,” she says.
As a school-girl, Lorna collected polythene bags and plastic litter and made ornaments from them to sell to other pupils for some little cash. This turned out to be something she loved doing and she developed a strong passion for it.
Waste isn’t waste
“Up to now, I believe waste is not waste unless it’s wasted,” she says.
She attended Tengecha Girls Primary School in Bureti where she sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 1998 and emerged the top student in the district.
After high school at Moi Forces Academy, Lanet in 2002, with the help of her parents and friends, and with the little savings she made from selling ornaments, she raised enough money to enroll at Africa Nazarene University for a Bachelor of Commerce – Accounting Option. At ANU, she became the first female students’ president.
After graduating in May 2008, she got a well-paying job at a bank and worked in various positions before she decided to call it quits and follow her dream.
“I resigned in 2010 because I was not fulfilled. I wanted to do something that would see me help and serve the community,” she says.
With plenty of time on her hands, Lorna took the entrepreneurial plunge and founded EcoPost, an organization that utilizes waste plastic and sawdust to manufacture lumber and fencing posts.
“That includes any type of plastic that can go through the extrusion process, such as polypropylene and polyethylene—the material used to make those carrier bags that clog the landfills. We can recover and use all of these for our posts,” she says.
The main factory is situated in Ruaraka and plans are underway to open another plant in Cabanas along Mombasa road.
“Many people questioned me on why I had left my comfortable job in the bank just to expose myself to all sorts of dirt. But I didn’t let their words demoralize me. I soldiered on,” she says.
With a starting capital of only Sh400, 000, which she raised from family and friends, Lorna found a location where they could operate from in Ruaraka and bought one machine to help in their operations.
“I started working with the youth and women, who would collect waste from different sites, clean and sort it and we would in return buy it from them,” she says.
“At some point, we almost closed down because we had run out of money to pay the youth and women who were supplying us with the materials. Banks could not lend us money because they considered us a very high-risk business,” she says.
There was also the challenge of technology since they had to import the machines from China. Frequent power outages and the high cost of energy was another setback they had had to cope with.
So far, EcoPost has been able to directly employ 40 people and 500 others who work indirectly. They hope to create an additional 1,000 opportunities before the end of next year.
They now process posts for fencing, sign posts, building and construction materials and lumber which can make tables and ceilings.
Lumber is an alternative to timber and provides a waste management solution.
“We want to prevent the cutting down of trees. That’s why we are making lumber which is a long-lasting product that does not rot,” she says.
Their clientele include farmers, home owners, wildlife institutions, sign companies among others. Additionally, they have been able to sell over 30,000 pieces of posts.
“For every six posts we produce and sell, we save a fully mature cedar tree. We have saved over 350 acres of forest cover and we hope to save even more,” says Lorna.
They have withdrawn more than 2.2 million kilogrammes of waste from the environment.
“I am passionate about what I do. It gives me great joy and satisfaction to see the lives of many youth transformed as they are able to eke out a decent living out of the work they do for us. We hope to improve the lives of even more,” says Lorna.
Her future plan for Ecopost is to replicate the same model in various other counties in the country and even spread to East Africa and beyond.
“We also hope to be an integrated waste management institution and use all types of waste including glass and organic waste. Our goal is to create as many jobs as possible for every individual,” she says.