Bag made from waste materials by Safia in Huruma, Kenya.

By Mary Appophia

I’ll be honest. I’ve not always had the best relationship with reusing waste products at the household level. Often because I’ll start out with every intention of reusing said product by cleaning and storing it for “future” reuse purposes, and then next thing I know all my spaces are full of reusable products that I can’t at that moment find use for. Which inadvertently frustrates me because they take up too much room and I end up feeling guilty if I make the choice of throwing them out.

I have now recognized my weakness and have taken to refusing certain products whenever possible. Or purchasing in larger quantities whenever finances allow it. This is because often I find more use for larger sized containers or bags than smaller sized ones. Products in larger quantities also last longer which means less disposables. In cases where I have to dump products such as containers, I’ve taken to cleaning them beforehand because I imagine that someone somewhere is more likely to repurpose them if they are in a cleaner state. Usually a nerve-racking affair, I also check to see if the local mama mboga or local hotels (Or my mother) might have a use for some of the containers. (Focusing on containers because my rubbish mostly consists of either food items or wraps or containers.)

Image credit: Climate Action Programme for Schools and Youth (CAPSAY)

The thing about recycling and reusing waste products is that they both have immense positive impact on the environment. Not only do they reduce the need for the extraction of new raw materials, but they also reduce the energy required to transport the raw materials. Reusing also reduces the energy and water required to manufacture new products. All these have an impact on global greenhouse gas emissions as well as natural resource use. Reusing and recycling also means that fewer products end up in landfills and in places where proper waste management systems are not in place, reusing and recycling can reduce cases of water, air and land pollution.

A pouch bag made by Safia using waste kitenge pieces

In the case of Safia, reusing and recycling waste pieces and tailoring materials has been her main source of income over the years. I met her in Huruma in 2016 when working at the Climate Action Program for Schools and Youth under a project called SUCSEED. Back then she made really beautiful bags, oven gloves and aprons using waste kitenge pieces. Contacted her when the CAPSAY project ended and purchased some great quality items from her for resell.

A bag made by Safia using waste tailoring products
Lovely pouch by Safia made using waste kitenge pieces

While I am no longer in the business, I recently got in touch with her and found out that she still makes the products. If anyone is interested in getting in touch with her just let me know. She is not only really friendly and lovely to talk to but also makes a mean cup of tea 😍.

Lovely bag made by Safia using waste kitenge pieces

I also found myself reusing some of my old products to make kitten toys a couple days ago. As the story with cats often go, Pedro (My best friend suggested the name, no judgements here) wormed into my life rather unexpectedly. She’d been crying all night but it wasn’t safe to go outside and check the situation, so waited till morning. Found her maneuvering her way through the bushes and after waiting a couple more hours to see if the mum would come back, picked her up and decided to foster her. Hopefully I am able to keep her, but for now she is in my care.

Pedro the kitten

She is approximately three weeks old and she’s become quite the Ninja in using her claws and bite. Researching on the issue, I discovered kitten lady on YouTube. In one of the videos she talks about training kittens to play with toys rather than using one’s hands and feet (Guilty! She’s just so adorable and couldn’t help it). In one of her videos she demonstrates the process of making different toys using already available materials. Some of these materials are considered waste such as empty tissue rolls.

Made this one using an empty tissue roll and a shoelace that I was no longer using.

Seeing that I had some waste materials lying around the house, rolled my sleeves up and got ready to work. The entire process took approximately 30 minutes.

An old plastic pipe decorated with stuff drawn from an old belt.
Playwand made from a stick wrapped in tape and fringes from an old top.

Prior to watching the video, ( ) I didn’t know how much animals in shelters would appreciate toys. So hopefully if there is an animal shelter near you, these pictures and her video will inspire some ideas.

A playball. Just drew one of the balls from a non-functioning fairy light.
Plastic bottle and some stuff inside
I am always turning old jeans into shorts and the bottom parts came in handy. Will be burning the frayed bits.
Play snake from a piece of rope

Ultimately, large-scale impact from recycling and re-using efforts requires concerted efforts by all and sundry. As well as availability of systems. National and local governments are best placed to steer this but the private sector has a great role to play as well. That however does not mean that individual actions do not count because they do.

How are you recycling or reusing waste products? Whether at the micro-level or macro-level. Would love to hear your story.