wonderful waste!

wonderful waste!

Own Correspondent

ROMA – TWO National University of Lesotho (NUL) Animal Science students are using waste paper for making simple egg trays.

That is after their colleagues used waste paper to make exclusive cladding for interior décor some time ago.

With this creation, Thabo Kojoana and Ranchobe Makata, hope to beat three birds with one stone.

First they will create jobs. Second they will satisfy a glaring hole in the egg tray market and, as a windfall, they will clean the environment off polluting paper waste.

Lesotho produces a lot of waste paper. You will find it in schools, offices and industrial outlets. And you will see it thrown all over the place.

However, as with anything else, Lesotho is yet to use this valuable raw material.

“Imagine if you never come across a waste paper thrown off and burned because we have turned it into a resource,” Makata said.

That would be a wonderful thing — you thought.

However, wonderful things don’t happen by chance. Usually, they start as a laborious work in the lab, the truth which, it seems, Lesotho is yet to grasp.

It sounds good, but will it make a good business model?

“We think it will,” Kojoana says.

“How often do you see people holding eggs in plastic bags?”

Eggs are very fragile. If they fall, you lose them all. Being animal scientists, they are intent on making sure that you don’t lose a single egg.

“But the fact that people still use plastic bags to hold eggs gives you an idea that the egg trays can be scarce sometimes.”

And this fact does not surprise the innovators.

“To our knowledge, there is not a company producing egg trays locally,” they said.

In order to have an idea of how they make the trays, you may need to know what paper is first. It is product of wood. Wood is made of cellulose fibres within a matrix of lignin and hemicellulose.

Wood is cooked in a solution of strong chemicals to produce fibres. Sometimes, they use only heat and pressure applied in a moist environment to make softer paper like newsprint.

In the process lignin and hemicellulose are dissolved leaving behind strong fibers. These fibres, which are now called pulp, become the backbone of paper.

The fibres are then pressed into a non-woven structure and dried to remove water and paper is formed. The finishing (coating) steps result in a rather smooth appearance you see in most papers. Chalk or clay are often used for coating.

Unfortunately Lesotho is a grassland. So we don’t have a lot of wood to make virgin paper. However, “since we import tons and tons of paper, why can’t we recycle it here?” the innovators ask.

Recycling paper can mean reversing the papermaking process and starting over with basic fibers.

To keep it simple, the NUL innovators decided to use mainly water for softening the paper before giving it a shape.

Unlike plastic, paper “loves” water. This is because it is consists of chemicals that absorb water and it can also be porous.

“Giving shape to the trays was the most complex part of the process. We had to come up with our own process from the beginning,” Makata said.

“So we used card boxes to make molds. The molds were carefully made to reproduce the shape of normal trays.”

The problem with this method is that their molds would survive only one round of egg tray production. Then they would give way, so they needed to be continually renewed.

But the NUL thinkers are already thinking about how to improve the process such that the molds retain a permanent structure.

“When we demonstrated our work at the Second NUL Annual Science, Technology and Innovation Expo held at the Pioneer Mall, people did like our product,” they said.

“However, most of them had a view that our products were too rigid, compared to the flexible commercial trays. So we are working on improving that part as well.”

The genius of these students is their ability to demonstrate that many useful things can be made out of nothing.

It is not the complication, but the simplicity of their idea, that is worth our resounding applause.

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