Waste: The hidden treasure

For Matilda Payne, founder of My Extreme Deco, waste is the new gold. Her small Ghana-based enterprise has found a way to valorize waste in an unexpected and creative way: by transforming it into jewelry, furniture and décor. Today, Matilda’s business’ main asset is waste.

SWITCH Africa Green, a joint European Union – UN Environment project, has been instrumental in helping Matilda establish her business and open new horizons for her to grow in the waste management industry.

“Before joining SWITCH Africa Green, My Extreme Deco was solely profit-oriented. My business is now impact-oriented and environmentally-friendly, as we reuse and recycle waste materials into valuable output,“ says Payne.

According to the UN Environment’s Africa Waste Management Outlook, Africa only recycles four per cent of its generated waste. About 90 per cent is disposed of on land, often in uncontrolled dumpsites while the rest is unaccounted for. The report urges African countries to find innovative solutions to address current waste management challenges and to prepare for the expected growth in waste generation on the continent.

A great way to help alleviate the waste menace is to enable businesses to transition to an inclusive green economy through policy support, and access to finance and markets. Through the influence of SWITCH Africa Green, small and medium enterprises such as My Extreme Deco are better able to apply sustainable consumption and production patterns that help them acquire and transform waste.

The growth of green businesses in Africa helps create decent job opportunities and reduce poverty in a more sustainable way. My Extreme Deco is a model example of this type of green business. More than just recycling and turning waste into valuable items, they also benefit the lives of those around them.

The company employs people from the surrounding community, especially women and youth. It also engages in corporate social responsibility by donating five per cent of the sale of every product to the education of underprivileged girls in the community.

However, establishing a business such as My Extreme Deco in Africa has not been easy. Small and medium enterprises within the continent face many challenges including limited access to financing, weak infrastructure, inadequate government regulations and difficulty in reaching markets within the region. “Transporting our products to other countries is one of our biggest challenges,” says Payne. “You go through a lot of payments, taxes and scrutiny. Sometimes, it can be very frustrating. Our other challenge is that people don’t understand the worth of what we are doing.”

Enabling a conducive environment to foster growth of green businesses through innovative initiatives such as SWITCH Africa Green is necessary to support Africa in its transformation towards a greener and more inclusive economy.

UN Environment