“We are pioneers in transforming the glass waste industry” is how Bottle Logistics describes itself on its website. Their top products include glass cullet, reusable bottles and glass aggregate. They recover and recycle, transforming glass bottles and jars into highly refined glass cullet. It is a business that embraces the concept of “circular economy” and applies it to waste management: reducing, reusing and recycling waste. Their numbers are proof of their success: 333 tons of CO2 saved and 2,000 tons of dumpsite glass waste recycled, with a current monthly recycling capacity of 1,000 tons. At the head of this company, which aims to become the biggest glass recycling company in Kenya within the next two years, is a woman: Louisa Gathecha, co-founder and Business Development Lead at Bottle Logistics. She tells us about the challenges of being a woman in the business (with a company in which women make up 70% of the workforce) and the goals and projects for the future.
How do you define circular economy and how is it changing Kenya’s economy and its environment?
Circular economy is an economic system that aims to transform waste into recycled raw materials for the production of new products. It has changed Kenya’s economy and the environment in that it ensures elimination of waste, reduces use of natural resources as well as reduced carbon emission, that leads to conserving the environment. The circular economy system also creates different job opportunities and access to livelihood to many according to the SDG goals. The use of glass cullet allows glass-manufacturing companies to cut C02 emissions.
What is your business model? Which are the key pillars of your work, of your business?
Our business model involves the recovery of post-consumer and industrial glass waste, reconverted into highly refined glass cullet; a raw material that is used by local glass manufacturing companies in the production of new glass. We also work with local food and beverage companies to recover their returnable glass bottles for reuse, and our key pillars of operation actually focus on the efficient recovery of glass waste through strong collaborations across the value chain and to continuously find innovative solutions to glass recycling. We also build strong returnable systems for reusable glass bottles, for the respective brand owners.
You were granted financial resources by the Incubator project. How did the grinding machine you purchased change the performance of your business?
The funding that we actually got through E&I enabled us to purchase a glass crushing machine which increased our production capacity from 30 tons to over 600 tons per month. It also enabled us to meet quality specifications for most suppliers and currently we have been able to start exporting the green cullet to Tanzania Kioo Glass as of the month of June
You have built up a network of more than 30 partners, from bars and restaurants to waste collection companies. You integrated informal waste collectors (scavengers) into your “value chain”. How did you do that and what is the perception of your business in Nairobi?
I was able to work closely with professional bodies such as PERAK to reach bars and restaurants in Kenya; I also worked closely with the Kenyan Association of Waste Recyclers in order to expand my network of waste collectors. The perception of waste collection and recycling in Kenya is slowly evolving for the better with many consumers and the population becoming more aware of the need to segregate and recycle that glass waste, but actually many people are very surprised when I quit my top corporate job for the informal waste recycling industry.
What does being a business woman in Kenya mean?
It is actually quite a dynamic and exciting time to be a woman entrepreneur in Kenya today. I received the technical and financial support I need in quite a male dominated industry and committed to take my company to the next big level as we expect be the biggest glass recycling company in Kenya within the next two years, so I believe I will prosper in this industry despite it being a male dominated industry.
But are there women in your company?
Yes, currently around 70 percent of my working population are women.
How did you face up to the impact of Covid on your business? What is the outlook for the future? Can you tell us about your next projects?
During the Covid period it was pretty much a very tough period as most of our customers who would normally use glass bottles were actually closed down with the lockdown. However after two months of them opening up the Covid provided new opportunities, I must say, because it was not business as usual, consumption moved from on trade to off trade, most of the companies were not able to recover the glass bottles used and they ended up contracting us to collect and do the first stage washing for them so we were able to start a new business unit for the returnable glass bottle system last year in September and this has ended up contributing to 60 percent of the total company revenues to date, and we were also able to acquire many new customers for the returnable glass bottles. In terms of the outlook for the future, just from that opportunity that has created by Covid of the returnable glass bottle systems, we plan to automate the washing process by installation of an automatic washing line.