OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Upcycling single-use plastic bags and sachets in Tanzania

My idea engages informal waste collectors and local tailors to upcycle single-use plastic bags and sachets into attractive accessories.

Photo of Fernando
4 2

Written by

Where are you / your team located?

Arusha, Tanzania

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

My solution locally upcycles single-use plastic in Tanzania and transforms it into attractive and durable bags and accessories. My solution engages informal waste collectors who collect, wash and cut discarded plastic. The plastic is folded into several layers and thermally fused together making one durable, plastic sheet aesthetically similar to leather. This sheet is used by local artisans and tailors to make marketable finished products that raise environmental awareness.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

My idea engages informal waste collectors by giving a value to single-use plastic bags and sachets. They can earn income by collecting and sorting the discarded plastics which clog drainage and pose as a health risk to humans. They are taught how to add value to the plastic by preparing it for thermal fusion. Because my idea focuses on making finished products, they are able to earn stable wages instead of traditional recycling which relies on the volatile price of petroleum.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

My idea applies to low-income urban settings where people buy their necessities daily in small quantities. In these contexts, there is a heavy use of unrecycled single-use plastic, many informal waste collectors and a large handicraft sector.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

I plan to scale my idea in Tanzania by engaging the informal waste collection and handicraft sector to improve our methodology and apply the same model to similar geographic contexts. My potential market includes: tourists, ex-patriates and middle-class Tanzanians. I plan to reach them by selling the products in lodges and handicraft markets as well as using the existing social media groups which reaches over 60,000 ex-patriates and Tanzanians.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

The grant money would be paramount in scaling-up my idea and providing us with necessary technical capabilities. My solution could benefit from working with people in the plastic industry who can address our logistical and technical challenges concerning collection and processing of plastic waste. I could also gain the necessary traction to promote my work and learn more about marketing my products. I could learn from larger industries and apply their knowledge to the local context in Tanzania.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

The idea began as a collaboration between Twende, an NGO based in Arusha, and a group of MIT students. We began working with handicraft cooperatives that weaved plastic bags into reusable bags. Although it proved unsuccessful, it helped us realize the potential of upcycling waste plastic into locally made finished products. After researching, I stumbled upon thermal fusing plastic bags, and I spent months perfecting and scaling the process and co-designing finished products with local tailors.

Tell us about your work experience

I am an MIT educated engineer and I consider myself a socially and environmentally conscious maker. My interest in appropriate tech brought me to East Africa, and my love for East Africa made me stay.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Our project is being incubated by the Twende Innovation Center, an NGO based in Arusha, Tanzania. We aim to become an independent social enterprise.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Soren null

Very cool idea! Could you add value by infusing the sachets with mosquito repellent and fight mosquitoes (80% of all mosquito bites are on the feet/lower part of the legs)!

Photo of Fernando

Thanks for your comment! I had not thought of adding repellent but I think it would be quite tricky since adding any sort of liquid to the plastic makes it impossible to thermally fuse. I have already had problems with incomplete fusion if the plastic is not completely dry after washing.
I think the only way it could work is if we used a non-liquid repellent. I don't know much about this topic. Do you have any ideas?

Photo of Soren null

You could perhaps add some conventionally impregnated textile to the mix (with natural repellents)? Perhaps these guys know how to? (They got some funding from USAID to explore their concept - which seems very cool).

Photo of Fernando

Ok thanks for the information!