Zimbabwe: Converting Trash Into Cash

TO most people textile or paper waste, grass and leaves are frowned upon and treated just as much – useless trash.

But it is a different story for several dozens of women and men in Harare's high-density suburb of Mabvuku who are converting trash into cash through traditional, environmentally friendly methods.

Using simple locally manufactured machines that run on just water, these men and women are turning grass, leaves, and numerous agricultural fibres into handmade tree-free paper, and pulp, pens, string, books, post cards, new generation organic packaging, envelopes, invitation journals, sometimes biogas among many other products.

Mapepa – that is the project's name. Through partnerships with other marketing agents, the products are sold to local and international artists, designers, distributors, retailers, tourists and hoteliers. People are making a "good living" out of this, recycling trash.

Chief executive Mr Walter Ruprecht, who is the founder and brains behind Mapepa, said the aim was to create opportunities for disadvantaged people through environmentally-friendly strategies.

"Yes, we are working very hard to educate and develop Clean Development Mechanism desks with a view of implementing sustainable community empowerment programmes utilising waste management as our catalyst to empowerment," he said.

"Mapepa is a vital opportunity for over 450 men and women to improve their lives and those of their families in spite of the dismal situation they find themselves in. The programme is adopting fair practice and an effective mitigation against climate change and global warming, land degradation, desertification and also produces own renewable energy."

The Mapepa products are made using mainly the Marina Bush Mill, a fossil fuel free machine designed and built by Mr Ruprecht in Harare in 1989. Mr Ruprecht, a Zimbabwean technician engineer, has also built some of the smallest, simple and complete eco-paper mills in Africa, which are being utilised alongside the Marina Mill in Mabvuku and elsewhere.

Running only on water, and without electricity, the hand-operated Marina Bush Mill is capable of reducing waste paper and a range of grass, leaves, bananas, river reeds or agricultural fibres such as maize and cotton into pulp within minutes.

Women and men are trained in simple and disciplined book binding techniques, box making, pulp painting, Mapepa sculpture, casting, and maintaining ancient cultural habits such as hand-spun fibre to make hand-spun string. At the mill, three to six people are working, which has also opened new opportunities for young sheetmetal workers, carpenters and weavers.

The Mabvuku project is a poignant depiction of sustainable opportunities created during times of crisis. It shows how indigenous ordinary people can empower themselves in a world where most systems are failing due to the devastating impacts of climate change and global warming, and do so with great environmental benefits.

Mapepa started more than 20 years ago and is now spread in over 50 villages in Zimbabwe, as well as in South Africa and Botswana. Mr Ruprecht described Mapepa as an "effective and comprehensive delivery system stimulating sustainable livelihoods in communities to bring about autonomy, self-sufficiency and economic independence and bring the notion of green and clean economy to the fore of any future economic growth".


The Herald

Mapepa is the project through which people are making a “good living” out of this, recycling trash in Zimbabwe.

Several dozens of women and men in Harare's high-density suburb of Mabvuku are converting trash into cash through traditional, environmentally friendly methods.