Made in Rwanda?

I’ve always disliked waste. When I was a boy I imagined one day having a company that went around scraping all the left-over ketchup, mayonnaise and toothpaste out of bottles and tubes, to recycle back into food for sale.  About a year ago this thought popped into my head again, whilst I was trying to squeeze out the last dregs of tomato ketchup. I worked out that on average, up to 50grams of sauce gets left in the bottle and is thrown away. I read somewhere that 97% of UK homes keep ketchup in the kitchen and that each person gets through about 3 bottles per year.  There are 60million people in the UK which means we throw away about 3000 tons of tomato sauce each year! 3000 tons!! Image how much that equates to around the world and imagine how much other stuff we waste too? Literally millions and millions of tons down the drain.  Arrghh!

“nobody is going to pay that for a small lump of timber”

So I had this idea for an upside down stand that would help drain out all the last drops of goop in your kitchen or bathroom. Then I designed it, making sure the angles and aperture and depth of the holder could accommodate a wide range of bottle shapes and sizes (see my previous article on Hedstand™ here). I prototyped it in wood and used it around my house for all sorts of things. It worked a treat. Friends commented on it and wanted one for themselves but I never got round to doing anything about serious production until now. I liked the idea of using wood because it’s pretty much indestructible, involving no molding or plastics so production would be environmentally friendly. If sourced from sustainable forests the CO2 cycle would be completely neutral. The problem I had was that to make them in wood in the UK was simply not economically viable. At a mass production cost of over £10.00 each they would need to retail at more than £20.00 and nobody is going to pay that for a small lump of timber –no matter how ingenious. It needed a rethink.

I realised that I was going to have to get this thing made somewhere else. Through my contacts in China I looked into production there. All perfectly feasible for large volumes and made in acrylic would look excellent, with different colours and transparency options. However, all this did not sit well with my environmental conscience.

“why not get it made in wood in Africa?”

Then the other day I thought “why not get it made in wood in Africa?”. It makes sense, Africa’s closer than China for a start so less transport miles, and surely they’ll be able to produce in wood, with their skills and long traditions in woodcraft. To begin with I thought about Algeria or Morroco which are close to Europe, with possible overland transport across the straights of Gibraltar. I researched online the different African economies and found myself on the Doing Business website which ranked Rwanda above Poland, Turkey and Italy in terms of the ‘ease of doing business’. It appears that since the genocide, Rwanda has done a lot to progress its economy, tackle corruption and red tape, and with an annual growth rate of 9.9% GDP and inflation at only 3.2%, it’s one of the best places in Africa to do business these days.  The Rwandan government is very keen to encourage exports, create employment and diversify the economy from its dependency on subsistence agriculture into a modern, broadly based economic engine. Perfect!

“helping the west waste less”

Here was the potential I thought, for a beautiful circle of mutual assistance. My guess is that the people of Rwanda waste nothing – yet we consumers throw away tons of perfectly good stuff every day. If I could help in my small way to generate employment and a little wealth in Rwanda, the Rwandans could help us too – by “helping the west waste less”.

I’ve since imagined all kinds of possibilities for patterns and designs burned, painted or carved into the surface of the wood. Having recently had experience of the promotional industry through my work with  ecobutton™ , it dawned on me that the Hedstand™ would make a perfect corporate gift – imagine receiving a really useful and unusual product with ‘AstraZeneca’ or ‘British Gas’ hot iron branded along the side, and underneath it say’s “handmade in Rwanda”. A swing label tells you all about it – how Rwanda is “helping the west waste less” and how we’re helping to create jobs over there.

Okay, so that’s all well in theory, now I have to find a producer. So far I’ve sent emails to the British High Commission in Kigali, the Rwandan Development Board and an ‘artisan’ collective via the COPABU – Coopérative des Producteurs Artisanaux de Butare. If anyone reading this has any contacts or can make any suggestions I’d be very grateful. Watch this space for further developments….

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