Photo credit: Atlas of the Future
Thato Kgatlhanye is the founder of Rethaka Repurpose Schoolbags, an eco-friendly South African company which repurposes plastic bags by turning them into backpacks for school children. Rethaka Repurpose Schoolbags started as an assignment for a design course in college. This assignment encouraged students to design one single product which will provide a solution to three of the most prevalent social issues in the town of Rustenburg, South Africa. These three issues are plastic pollution, unemployment, and lack of electricity. This college project resulted in the idea for Repurpose Schoolbags, a practical solution to plastic pollution while making it easier for children to attend school. Repurpose Schoolbags has since become the first green initiative from Rethaka, a social startup that was created by Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane.
Enhancing education and promoting safety of schoolchildren
The Repurpose Schoolbags not only improve the environment by making use of old plastic bags and giving them a second life but contain multiple features that improve the learning conditions and safety of the children who wear them. Many children in rural South Africa must walk long distances through busy streets in order to get to and from school, all while carrying their books. Kgatlhanye and her friends took note of the children who carried their books in plastic bag and wondered if these bags could be turned into backpacks. Not only are backpacks more comfortable, but they also free up children’s hands for their journeys to and from school.
The second feature of the Repurpose Schoolbags is the built-in solar light that is located at the top of each bag. This solar light charges during the day and can be used as a lamp for schoolchildren to use while studying after dark. The charger can be removed and attached to a glass lantern in order to provide six to eight hours of light. In situations where families don’t have access to electricity and candles must be rationed, this solar light provides an opportunity for children to enhance their learning and focus on their homework without worrying about the rest of the household. Strips of reflective material are also added on to the backpacks in order to ensure that schoolchildren are more visible to traffic early in the morning or during the evening.
In their early days, Rethaka joined start-up competitions and applied for grants in order to raise enough money to make their idea a reality. After coming in third place at the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, Thato Kgatlhanye and her business partner Rea Ngwane received R300,000 ($18,306.20 USD) to go towards setting up a small workshop and hiring employees. The company has expanded since then, now selling their schoolbags individually, as well as in bulk to companies such as Unilever and Coca-Cola. These companies sponsor schools with children in need of school supplies such as the Repurpose Schoolbag. This woman-owned business has now recycled over 400,000 plastic bags and made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of children across Africa.
Join my mailing list to receive the latest news and updates. Your information will not be shared.