Innovative Minds Transforming Trash into Treasure! The UNDP Lesotho Circular Economy Innovation Expo 2021

Posted November 25, 2021

A household Map created from plastic waste by Basotho

In recent times, the concept of circular economy has widely been adopted across the world as a way in which resources can be managed more efficiently for long term benefits on economic and environmental sustainability. Through this concept, it is believed the world will be responsive enough towards achievement of SDG-12 in the manufacturing of products and services that could support the development of new employment activities, green industries, and the reduction of carbon emissions.

In context of Lesotho, the UNDP Lesotho Accelerator Lab in partnership with Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture (MTEC) implemented a project on strengthening partnership on sustainable plastic life-cycle management in Lesotho. The project encompasses experimental elements that complement efforts of the Government of Lesotho in encouraging behavioural change for responsible production and consumption patterns nationally. The largest component of action within the project aims to educate Basotho on the impacts of plastic on the environment, methods in which plastic can be used to create livelihoods, as well as finding alternatives to plastic use.

More innovative plastic products from exhibitors: shoes, bags, hats

To support ongoing livelihood activities in the country, the project held a Circular Economy Innovations Expo on the 24th and 25th November 2021 at Sefika Complex in Maseru to expose and market some of the products in creative repurposing and recycling. The project also provided potential solutions to some of the challenges encountered by circular economy entrepreneurs in Lesotho; including access to market, lack of capital resources and low quality of products. The event presented an opportunity for the sharing of practises that have a positive impact in reducing plastic pollution in Lesotho, and one of the participants noted “Here at the Expo I see various and new products which are different from mine, therefore I am willing to learn more about those different products.” 

Making bricks for building and paving out of plastic waste

This expo also increased market visibility for the products and was a catalyst for networking and building new business connections for the participants. A pleased entrepreneur eagerly shared “We can collaborate as producers who specialize in the production of different products, so that if one of us gets an order which is too large [for one person to handle], we can lean on each other [working towards a similar goal] and deliver the product to the client!” The event was open to all individual entrepreneurs across the country, graced mainly with innovators from Maseru, Berea, Leribe, Butha-Buthe and Mafeteng. The event was also meant to promote a broader awareness to other Basotho populations on livelihood opportunities that exist in other areas of the country. 

 The entrepreneurs were composed of 29 females and 14 males who participated within the event. In a country plagued by high unemployment rates (22.5%[1] being the recorded unemployment rate of 2019) this initiative also spurred efforts towards the diversification of Lesotho’s economy as well as lending support to small and medium businesses. Surely it goes without saying that this initiative also encompassed another one of UNDP’s pillars, which is sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Reflective in the demography of the participating entrepreneurs, UNDP Lesotho managed to create an equal platform where both men and women could showcase their products, thus creating an inclusion of female entrepreneurs into sustainable economic development initiatives in Lesotho.  The majority of  products ranged from shoes, to mats, hats, bricks, stools and household accessories among others. Indeed, the Basotho entrepreneurs demonstrated that plastic waste can be recycled, repurposed and reused for many human needs; this is innovation at its best!

[1] The World Bank, “The World Bank in Lesotho”, 2022, https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/lesotho/overview#1