Transforming Plastic into High Quality Sewing Threads

April 17, 2024

Hellen Munyasa sorting thread in the production room

UNDP Uganda/Joel Akena

Plastic waste presents a serious global challenge. According to the United Nations, the world is producing 430 million Tonnes of plastic per year – a staggering 66% of which are only used for a short period of time, including single-use plastics such as water bottles, food packaging and plastic utensils. This brief life cycle has consequences: every day, the equivalent of over 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into our oceans, rivers, and lakes. As a result, plastic pollution is set to triple by 2060 if no action is taken.

In Uganda alone, current statistics from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) show that the country generates 600 metric tonnes of plastics daily. About 40% of plastic waste is collected for disposal and 60% is left in the environment. Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, itself generates 800,000 metric tonnes of plastic every year.

Faced with such urgency, Hellen Munyasa, a youth partner under the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Youth4Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facility is innovatively transforming plastics to high quality sewing threads through her company Helton Traders.

Hellen Munyasa holding a thread role at the final production point

UNDP Uganda/Joel Akena

Through an innovative recycling process, the start-up collects plastic, shreds it into small pieces, mixes it with cotton waste, and transforms it into thread which is later sold in markets across Uganda.

By manufacturing locally, Helton Traders reduces costs incurred by textile traders from import taxes, transportation and enables faster delivery (4-7 days) to customers. Their sustainable and eco-friendly practices also appeal to businesses seeking an environmentally conscious supply chain.

"When UNDP came in, they greatly helped us, and they are still helping us. We received a grant and are also receiving business training and mentorship. Through the forums we attended, we have been able to understand our business very well and have also been connected to major players in the manufacturing industry. This has enabled us to be investor ready,” said Hellen Munyansa, Helton Traders.

With UNDP's support, Hellen has been able to forge partnerships with major stakeholders in the manufacturing industry, like Fine Spinners who have provided her with the machinery to produce final products for the market. Through platforms like YouthConnekt Africa, she has also connected to other young entrepreneurs in Kigali and Nairobi to generate ideas.

Hellen Munyasa holding her packaged thread ready for market

UNDP Uganda/Joel Akena

As the world commemorates World Creativity and Innovation Day 2024 on 21st April, the voices and visions of creative and innovative entrepreneurs such as Hellen Munyasa must be amplified. Voices that advance creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and environmental protection as pathways to human development and empowerment of marginalized groups, particularly women and youth. 

Factory workers sew textiles using thread from Helton Traders

UNDP Uganda/Joel Akena

It is on this note that UNDP is working with the Government of Uganda and stakeholders to nurture Uganda’s creatives ecosystem, providing support to young entrepreneurs like Hellen who depend on the growth of this sector for their livelihood, and to create job opportunities for more young people. Hellen is a participant and beneficiary of the UNDP Innovation Challenge, which has supported 49 different individuals and enterprises in the creatives and cultural industry of Uganda.

The UNDP in Uganda Country Programme for 2021-2025, has prioritized inclusive and sustainable growth with a major focus on the youth. UNDP is already implementing the following initiatives to promote and support creative industries:

  • Youth4Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facility.

  • SMEs4Trade initiative with a focus on harnessing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

  • PEARL Innovation Challenge in tourism.

  • Rapid Project to Harness Nature and Technology to recover and build back a resilient tourism sector.

  • Youth Re-Skilling and Entrepreneurship Training to tackle critical skills gaps. 

Plastic pollution threatens our health, the environment, and socio-economic development. As we strive toward zero waste communities, we need everyone on board – Government, private sector, development partners, civil society, creatives, innovators, entrepreneurs, and communities – to tackle this global challenge and achieve a sustainable future for all. This is a call to action for all: join forces and address one of the most urgent challenges we face. Together, we can create a future that is more sustainable, resilient, and fair. Yes, it's possible!

 By Joel Akena, Communications Specialist