Meet the Kenyan entrepreneur who is minting money from your trash

If you had a cushy bank job, would you quit it to venture into a business you have never tried before?

In Kenya’s tough economic realities, most people would not even consider it an option. But in 2009, Lorna Rutto took that gamble when she started Ecopost.

“I remember I wrote my letter of resignation but I kept hiding it then I would remove it again. It was a really hard decision to make because you can imagine in an economy situation like our country, the place where we’re at it would be very hard to leave a white collar, good paying job and then you go into a place where you’re not sure about but eventually I got some courage and went and tried,” the Africa Nazarene University graduate recounts.

Partnering with Charles Kalama, a biochemical engineering graduate from University College in London, Ms Rutto started making posts from waste. Their partnership is a perfect marriage of business acumen and technical know-how, with her finance background and his engineering expertise.

“These are products that would replace timber; it’s a better alternative to timber because for one, we are providing an alternative. So far we have saved over 400 acres of forest by manufacturing over 100,000 poles which we have used for fencing, and other building materials,” she explains.

Ms Rutto’s gamble paid off, but it was not immediate.

“It was very difficult the first days and there were times where we couldn’t even pay for rent, we could not manage to buy enough materials to produce… but thank goodness as time has gone by we’ve been able to recycle more,” he recounts.

Seven years later, Ms Rutto has bagged herself some illustrious global awards including: 2011 Carter Women’s Initiative, 2010 WWF Nature Challenge Award, 2012 Energy Globe Awards among others.

Turning trash to treasure has also earned her international media coverage; her story has been featured numerous outlets including BBC, Deutsche Welle, Forbes, and CNBC Africa. Most recently, she was profiled by CNN in their ‘African Start-Up’ series which aired on June 1.

Six years after she took the leap, Ecopost is flourishing. Ms Rutto’s venture employs 40 people, and they produce 400 poles daily. Demand exceeds supply, and they are churning millions from everyday waste.

Impressed? Well, take a step back because Ms Rutto has set her eyes on something even bigger.

“In five years we’d like to be an integrated waste management company, we want to employ over 50,000 people in this country then we want to scale up our business into Africa and even other countries outside of Africa.”

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