Kenyan Youth awarded for saving marine life by turning plastic waste into school eco-desks

By Joackim Bwana

Twende Green Ecocycle, a group of four university students in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa have been recognized for their innovative venture of turning plastic waste into affordable eco desks that are supplied to schools.

Lawrence Kosgei, Churchill Muriuki, Faraj Ramadhan and Zainab Mahmoud, won USD 23,333 in June 2023, beating 57 young entrepreneur groups involved in sustainable businesses tackling marine plastic waste pollution in Mombasa.

Kosgei and Mahmoud said the idea was inspired by their uncomfortable days in lower primary school where most children sat on the floor or shared desks because there were not enough for everyone..

Kosgei, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Technical University of Mombasa (TUM), says the group’s innovation has reduced disposal of plastics waste into the Indian Ocean.

“Together with my three co-founders at Twende Green Ecocycle, we decided to not only eradicate plastic pollution but also provide school desks within Mombasa County to help solve the issue of insufficient school desks and help the children study comfortably in a safe environment,” Kosgei said..

The four were part of 140 participants engaged in 2022-2023 Mombasa Plastic Prize (MPP) award competition, an innovative project to end the plastic menace in Mombasa.

The competition organized by Challenge Works was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Global Affairs Canada.

The team was recognized  for their outstanding innovation by King Charles the 3rd and Queen Camila during their November visit to Mombasa.

Data from MPP indicates that Mombasa County generates approximately 120 tons of plastic waste every day with only five percent being recycled while 37,000 tons of plastic waste leaks into the ocean every year.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation warns that if we continue with business as usual, we will end up with more plastics in the ocean than fish by 2050.

The group that was founded in January 2023 is currently producing 20 desks to be delivered to Elgeyo Marakwet County courtesy of an order placed by President William Ruto’s daughter, Charlene Ruto.

Kosgei, the group’s Production Manager says a single desk uses 13 kilograms of plastic waste, while the 20 desks will save 260 Kilograms from ending up in the ocean and choking the fish and turtles.

He says that if they used timber to make the 20 desks, it would mean trees are cut down and that will promote deforestation within Mombasa and its environs.

“We really don’t want to continue with the culture of cutting down trees to make furniture. We are bringing in a new narrative where we are using plastic waste, something that is considered useless and repurpose it to make school desks, promote circularity and promote sustainable education in Mombasa,” Kosgei said.

He says their eco-desk is currently selling at Ksh.5500 (USD37) compared to the wooden desk that goes for between Ksh,7.500 (USD 50) to Ksh. 8,500 (USD57).

So far the group has supplied two proto-type desks to Tudor Primary school and had discussions with the administration of MP Shah Primary, a private owned school who have shown interest in buying the desks.

For Mahmoud, the group’s Chief Executive Officer, the project is a source of employment for them and at least 100 women and youth groups from the informal sector who collect the plastics.The 22-year-old CEO told King Charles the 3rd that they intend to produce desks that are 20 percent cheaper than the wooden ones.

However, Mahmoud says the molding machines used to press the plastic chips to boards are expensive for them to import and are trying to make them locally to sell to other groups looking to start a similar venture.

Muriuki, a third year student of Chemical Engineering at Moi University, says they have been able to learn about scaling up the project and maneuver in the business world to make the innovation a reality through the MPP incubation.

Muriuki says there is too much plastic waste in the environment for them to completely clean and recycle and they intend to trigger behavioral change among the young children and the community to embrace responsible disposal.

He however says society is slow towards embracing the new eco desks because they are used to the wooden desks.

According to Ramadhan, the group’s Chief Finance Officer, the team has established clubs in Makupa Primary and Tudor Primary where they teach pupils how to segregate plastic and waste management in collaboration with the teachers.

USAID’s Programme Manager at Challenge Works, Naomi Whitbourn says that in the incubation phase all the winners including Twende Green Eco-cycle are learning about the business formalization process in Kenya, impact measurement and Standard Operating Procedures.

“This Masterclass is essential if the teams are to operate as a legal entity in Kenya. From there, the hope will be that they can significantly impact the mitigation of marine plastic waste pollution in Mombasa County,” says Whitbourn.

According to Sustainable Inclusive Business Communication Manager Josephine Wawira, lack of sufficient recycling facilities and infrastructure to handle the volume of plastic waste generated and the high costs associated with implementing and maintaining modern recycling facilities, especially for youth-led initiatives, hinders realization of a free plastic environment.


This story was published through a grant from the United States Government through the US Department of State, Mandela Washington Fellowship and the Irex. 

Special thanks to the team of US Editors (Robyn Murray, Michelle Hassler, Brian Beach, Chris Bowling, Lilian Kaivilu and Lauryn Higgins) who offered their time and expertise to mentor our journalists through the production process. 


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