Topic 5 Best practices – Five young entrepreneurs embracing sustainable business models

Kuwait, where Fatemah is from, produces 1.5 kg of waste per person every day, which is twice the global average, and 90% of it is disposed of in landfills. Fatemah wants to change Kuwait’s lack of adoption of sustainable waste management.

She was a co-founder of Eco Star, a non-profit organization in Kuwait that recycles waste from households, restaurants, and schools. She started her business with her own money and amassed more than 20,000 followers on social media by spreading recycling awareness to her target market.

More than 3.5 tonnes of plastic, 10 tonnes of paper, and 120 tonnes of metal have been recycled by Eco Star since its start in 2019. According to Fatema, “We can all take action and inspire others to take action on a bigger scale”.

“Don’t quit your day job” – or so we are often advised. Nzambi did, however, leave her day job and  her social life as well, she  used all of her savings to fund an experiment in her mother’s backyard. She says, “My friends were worried.” “Everyone thought I was crazy and so many people told me to give up”.

Gjenge Makers, a business that creates construction materials from waste plastic, was founded by Nzambi. She created a machine that compresses a plastic and sand mixture into bricks after observing how many plastic bags litter the streets of Nairobi. They have been used to pave walkways for homes and schools, particularly those in low-income communities where students would otherwise have to walk on dirt paths because they are lighter and more durable than cement and are inexpensive.

Her company now turns out 1,500 pavers every day, demonstrating that a circular economy, in which goods and resources are used for as long as feasible, can replace a linear one.

Fifth generation fisherman Lefteris Arapakis was alarmed to see boats in his Greek hometown bringing in nets full of trash instead of fish.

“I was deeply concerned that my father and brothers could not make a living out of this job”, Lefteris said. In fact, according to predictions, by 2050 there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Lefteris’ worry propelled him to take action; he established Enaleia, the nation’s first sustainable fishing academy, instructing fishermen in adopting more environmentally friendly tactics. “We want to empower every fisherman to catch plastic and then bring it back to the port and upcycle it”, he said.

The school also organizes the neighborhood’s maritime community to gather plastic waste, a project that has removed more than 80 tonnes of plastic from the ocean. Enaleia has begun to recycle fishing nets into carpets, socks, and other consumer goods in collaboration with a Dutch group.

Even water that appears clean may not be safe to drink in rural China. Some estimates place the amount of contaminated shallow groundwater in the nation at up to 50%.

“Imagine two glasses of water, both looking the same, but one is clean and one could make you sick,” Xiaoyuan says. “How do you choose?”

MyH20, Xiaoyuan’s business, eliminates uncertainty by charting water quality. It compiles data from an organization of young volunteers across the country and is available as a mobile app and data platform. It offers methods for purifying water, gives customers up-to-date information about local water quality and connects communities with businesses that treat contaminated water sources.

Tens of thousands of people now have access to clean water thanks to MyH20, but Xiaoyuan is not done yet. She says, “What motivates me is inspiring people to act“. Student volunteers with MyH20 “will go on to develop careers in these fields and create solutions to some of the environmental concerns they have witnessed while working with us“, according to the organization.

Max is a prolific inventor whose most revolutionary invention uses a turbine to condense air vapor to produce water out of the wind. Climate change has made water shortage a real risk in Max’s native Peru, where many villages depend on pricey water delivery. While it can cost up to $1 million to serve a community of 100 people, Yawa only costs US$70,000.

Yawa is meeting a basic requirement because it is made primarily of recyclable materials and little plastic, simple to use and maintain, and adaptable to local air quality. “I spent a lot of time explaining the technical aspects of it, and the scientific processes behind it, when I was first testing this technology in different rural communities“, stated Hidalgo. At one point, a woman stopped me and said, “Young man, I just want water“, looking me in the eye.