Millions of school children in South Africa walk long distances to and from school on a daily basis. Once they return home, several are unable to study at night due to the absence of secure light sources. It is for this reason that Rethaka Ltd., a for-profit, woman-owned business, came up with the inspiring idea of Repurpose Schoolbags. The start-up, founded by Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane, collects plastic bags from landfills and participating schools, and recycles them into textiles which are then used to make the bags.

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Photography by Roxy Klein

Repurpose Schoolbags are schoolbags that are recycled from plastic bags. They contain solar panels which are charged during the day, as millions of students walk to school every day. The energy stored in the bag can be used as a source of light for children, making study at night possible. The bags also increase night time visibility of the students as they walk, due to their retro-reflective material, thereby protecting children from busy traffic. What’s more is that the bags are waterproof, so that textbooks are protected from any rain, and they have trendy and unique designs.

The project has been such a success that plans are underway to create and sell bags for corporate conferences, as well as luxury bags; the proceeds of which will go into the Repurpose bags.