What a load of rubbish…

It was about 10 days into our stay in Kericho that our working groups were emailed the list of entrepreneurs that we would be working with. Most groups had a pretty similar list of sectors; I think its fair to say that tea, poultry and retail are the most common businesses that Balloon Kericho works with. However, one of our entrepreneurs was a little bit different; Phyllis’ sector was scrap.

We first met in QuickService, the café/restaurant that we use for office space and we went through the Balloon questionnaire – a great starting point for getting to know your entrepreneurs and helping you understand the business. It quickly became clear that due to the complexity (and language difficulties) it would be best to see the business in person. But we did learn a few things from the questionnaire: Phyllis loved her business – the money it brought it had fed, clothed and educated her family and that she planned to use the balloon loan to “buy more stock” (this is a common request that balloon come across, though I am still, 5 weeks later, none the wiser what extra stock could be used for in her scrap metal/plastic recycling business).


Our next meeting was at her place of business – a compound full of plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes and a shed full of scrap metal, built onto the side of her house. She talked us through her daily activities and talked us a little bit through the finances. It turned out that once a week a truck from Nairobi would arrive and load all the plastic bottles that Phyllis had accumulated on her truck and ship it back to the recycling factory. The plastic recycling aspect of her business was surprisingly profitable! Once we felt we had a reasonable understanding of her business, we settled down to the next tool the Balloon curriculum recommend to get to know your entrepreneurs – the CV plus.

The CV plus is designed to help you ask the questions that go beyond the basics covered in a CV. We asked Phyllis what her long-term aspirations were and she replied that she wanted to buy, rather than rent, her plot and to buy a plastic shredder so that she could earn more per kilogram for her plastic. Delving a little deeper we found out that Phyllis had looked into buying a plastic shredder, but that they cost upwards of 300,000KSH – a small fortune.

As the first few weeks passed we got to know Phyllis and her business better and better, suggesting small changes, testing new ideas and trying to professionalise her record keeping and approach to the business – passing on the bits of the curriculum that we think would be the most useful. At the same time we were researching plastic recycling in developed and in developing countries when one day we came across the “Precious Plastics” project. Started by a Dutch engineer called David Hakken “Precious Plastic” encouraged engineers to contribute to open source technical drawings for three different machines that can be made by materials available in developing countries. When we suggested to Phyllis that we could pitch for a loan to have the shredder built locally for less than 50,000KSH she was over joyed.

Plastic recycling companies pay more for shredded plastic for a few reasons: firstly, it is one step along the production process – the plastic must be shredded before they can be melted. Secondly, you can fit a much greater weight of shredded than entire plastic bottles into a van. This means that a single van can carry the same weight of plastic that three or four vans could previously carry (when considering it is a four hour journey to Nairobi – on a good day – it is clearly in their financial interest).

Phyllis plans to pitch for the shredder and have it built locally, but that’s just the beginning. Once up and running she will be earning more from the plastic she sells and she has plans to either charge other plastic collectors in the county to use her machine or buy their plastic supply from them and become a local recycling hub. She hasn’t decided yet. But what about Balloon? We are achieving our aim by helping a local, company to grow and create employment, while reducing the need for dozens of truck journeys between Kericho and Nairobi. The best bit? All of this has come out of someone else’s rubbish.

Balloon ICS, Kericho