Object Lesson Solar-powered school bags

A group of young and enterprising South African women have created an innovative way to put used bags to good use, by repurposing them as schoolbags.

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Written by Vusi Nzapheza

PLASTIC BAGS SO OFTEN BECOME A FESTERING EYESORE and a blight on the environment when consumers carelessly throw them away.

A group of young and enterprising South African women have created an innovative way to put used bags to good use, by repurposing them as schoolbags – which also double as solar-powered lights.

Thato Kgatlhanye came up with the idea while doing a university assignment, and with Rea Ngwane they founded Repurpose Schoolbags. She has since won an Anzisha Prize, which recognises young African entrepreneurs who’ve started innovative businesses and are creating sustainable employment opportunities. Repurpose employs people to recycle the plastic bags into school bags and integrates solar-power packs that allow them to be charged during the day and used as lamplights for evening study sessions.

The solar panel charges during the child’s walk to school, providing a solar lantern to study for up to 12 hours at night. This comes in handy as South Africa labours under frequent electricity outages.

Repurpose brand manager Phemelo Segoe says the plastic bags are collected from retail outlets and through a “PurposeTextile” banks set up in public areas such as schools, churches, housing estates or offices.

After the collection, they are washed by hand and then de-branded. The material is then fused to make a durable textile which is sewn into schoolbags by a team of seamstresses.

The schoolbags also incorporate a retro-reflective material on the outside to make students more visible on their early- morning walks to school. Segoe says the company creates demand by identifying disadvantaged schools with children who lack basic school supplies and walk long distances to school. They then invite a company or individual to purchase or give donations towards Repurpose schoolbags for students.

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