Schoolbag made from recycled plastic sheds light on poverty

A backpack made entirely from recycled plastic and helps you do your homework? Yes, you read that correctly. Rethaka, a woman-owned and women-powered start-up based in Rustenberg, South Africa, has come up with a solution called Repurpose Schoolbags for Giving Partners to provide children with trendy backpacks that are outfitted with solar-powered lamps that charge during sunlight hours and also have reflector patches to help keep kids safe while walking to and from school. And since many of these kids don’t have electricity in their homes, they can use the lamps as reading light for up to 12 hours to study instead of lighting a kerosene lamp which causes several accidents and deaths.

“We believe that children should worry about calculating maths sums not the cost of purchasing kerosene and candles,” said Rethaka.

According to statistics on Rethaka website, three million children die each year from incidents related to kerosene lanterns and similar alternatives while three children die every day on South African roads. The Repurpose Schoolbags website uses these shocking statistics to shed light on the danger 11.4 million South African children who walk to and from school face on a daily basis.

So how do they do it? The company recycles plastic shopping bags and turns them into textile which is a practical solution to the plastic pollution crisis. The textile is strong and durable as the plastic bags are fused together at a high temperature. It’s also waterproof which solves the dilemma of books and homework getting wet and soggy if caught in the rain on the way to school.

But don’t mistake this as charity. This is a purpose-driven business that does what is right, not what is easy, according to Rethaka. “Through our green innovations, we redefine societal problems into solutions. We make it our business to uncover sustainable opportunities that create a far-reaching impact for low-income communities, with a particular focus on children and women,” said the company on its website.

On top of manufacurting Repurpose Schoolbags, the company is also launching PurposeTextile banks, a plastic bag collection service to source raw materials for the bags and other future products.

A PurposeTextile Bank can be set-up in a public area such as a school, church, estate, complex or corporate office. Each participating bank nominates a ‘Bank manager’ to run the initiative. Rethaka provides the Bank manager with resources, infrastructure and capacity to place and manage PurposeTextile Banks.

The company relies on the support of Giving Partners, individuals or groups that want to do participate to help out the children and local region. Giving Partners will purchase the bags which is manufactured by Rethaka and distributed to schools. For those who participate, they receive handwritten thank you notes from the children and school, pictures of the handover event with the benefactors wearing their new schoolbags, and information on how many plastic bags were recycled in the schoolbags they purchased.


Plastics Today