Turning plastic waste into school supplies in Senegal

For their in-company project, three Masters students in Innovation & Entrepreneurship joined forces with Faro360, which builds micro-factories and trains local communities to prevent and recycle plastic waste. “They helped us shape both our business plan and our pilot project in the Senegalese city of Kaolack,” says the enthusiastic founder of Faro360, Koen Verrecht.

Through MakeSense, a global community that partners with Vlerick to support social entrepreneurs, Koen was given the opportunity to come and explain the Faro360 project to Masters students earlier this year. “In Africa, 3 billion people lack access to basic waste services,” he explains. “Their waste is either not collected or not disposed of properly. This means open dumping and burning. The impact on the environment and on health is alarming: land, water and air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and generally unhealthy conditions for people and animals. With Faro360, we want to prevent and clean up street waste in African cities. We also want to empower people in low-income cities with the right mindset and tools to see plastic waste as a source of revenue and to utilise it.”

Trigger

His story prompted Jonathan Tshiswaka, Michaël Stevens and Cassandra Bui to do a Global Social Project with Faro360. For Jonathan, being Congolese himself, the project was a way to give something back to his continent. He teamed up with Michaël, who shared his interest in Africa, and Cassandra, who was looking to get involved in a social entrepreneurship project.

In-company project for Faro360 in Senegal
From left to right: Cassandra Bui, Jonathan Tshiswaka and Michaël Stevens

Three challenges

The in-company project revolved around three challenges:

  1. an organisation model with local stakeholders
  2. a financial model that aims for self-sustainability and funding
  3. a larger customer base.

Faro360 runs a pilot project in Kaolack, the dirtiest city in Senegal. The students flew down there to interview local waste collectors, waste management representatives, competitors, etc. “The input from the interviews and market research data collected in the field enabled us to build a clearer picture of how Faro360 could thrive in the local ecosystem,” Michaël recalls.

‘Aha’ moment

But the real “aha” moment came after talking to local school headmasters. Cassandra: “Local schools have an important role in this waste project because they serve as waste collection points. One of the schools’ major problems is, however, the lack of school supplies. So, instead of simply transporting the collected waste to a plastic factory, we launched the idea of recycling plastic waste into school supplies such as pens, rulers, paper clipboards, book covers, boxes and even tables, benches and stools.”

Faro360 project in Kaolack (Senegal)

Tangible results

As a former teacher, Koen couldn’t but applaud the idea: “Working with ASDES, our local partner, which organises waste collection for households in the region, we were struggling to come up with an end product that would be of benefit to the community. By returning supplies to the schools, we are proving to the community that collecting waste results in something tangible for their children. But we can also empower the schools in their role of preventing waste in the first place. Senegalese in low-income cities, and especially the inhabitants of Kaolack, have a high ‘degree of waste tolerance’ – a term the Vlerick students taught me by the way (smiles): people are so used to waste being omnipresent that they no longer feel the urge to get rid of it. They are not aware of the risks that waste poses for their own health and that of their livestock, for instance. ASDES is currently training teachers in 12 schools on environmental sustainability. If these teachers can instruct their pupils on the consequences of waste and how to prevent it, we can count on the ripple effect among their families.”

 

Teamwork

How does Koen look back on the experience with our students? “Apart from taking the business model of Faro360 to a higher level, they were inspiring and positive to work with. We really operated as a team and I was happy to be able to exchange views with them.” And the students? “The Faro360 project allowed us to apply assumptions from class into practice,” Jonathan says. “But we also learned a lot about the challenges you face as a business start-up: the skills that are required to get your finance and business model right, build up a network and raise funding. Also, listening to the people in Kaolack and hearing, for instance, that children there share a pen to do their homework, made us realise just how lucky we are.”

Faro360 is looking for partners to fight waste pollution in Africa. Get in touch via [email protected].

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