Waste management in cities with exponential population growth, such as Addis Ababa, is a formidable challenge. Approximately 3,200 tons of solid waste are produced daily in the capital city. Common waste disposal methods include unregulated landfills and waste burning, which pollute the environment and cause unseen health complications. However, movements or businesses have sprouted as entrepreneurs and environmentally conscious citizens discover ways to mitigate the negative effects of waste and unsanitary disposal that contaminate or generate waste.
Solid waste is transported to landfills, where tons of trash are spread out awaiting sorting for recycling or oversight. Frequently, the areas surrounding landfills are inhabited by people who make a living off of what others consider “waste.” People sift through trash, sorting recyclable materials for sale.
Alternative Addis launched a circular business in January 2021 with the goal of promoting more conscientious consumption and production by creating eco-friendly and high-quality products from waste materials.
Instead of using a linear approach, in which materials are used once and then discarded when they are no longer needed, a circular approach employs upcycling, in which the materials are repurposed.
With this strategy, the company hopes to reduce not only the waste that already exists but also the waste production rates.
Using a creative and artistic approach to recycling, the company has transformed discarded wine and alcohol bottles into high-quality products that meet the demands of the local market.
Ruth Gabriel, the founder of Alternative Addis, says they have been able “to recycle approximately 40,000 waste glass bottles since the company began operations in 2021.”
These bottles, which were considered trash, have been redesigned into eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing products that can be used as packaging for various foods and spices as well as for kitchen and household storage, replacing the use of plastic containers and jars.
These containers serve the purpose of providing a solution to the packaging issue that other businesses are experiencing. By manufacturing food-safe jars in a variety of sizes and for a variety of purposes, businesses in Ethiopia can solve the problem of packaging accessibility and availability.
In addition to producing packaging bottles, the company adds an artistic spin to upcycled bottles to create bowls, drinking and coffee glass sets, vases, chandeliers, tray sets, light fixtures, and desk lamps. Additionally, recycled wood, metal, and other materials are utilized.
The desk lamp, for instance, has a rustic design with a simple metal base and a wine bottle containing the bulb. Either the bottle is sanded and painted with various designs and colors, or its simplicity is maintained by leaving it unadorned.
According to Ruth, reusing and repurposing materials is not a novel concept in Addis Ababa. There are neighborhoods in Addis Ababa whose sole focus is the resale of waste or previously used materials, and this is a culture that should be developed, she says.
When Ruth wanted to set up a physical workshop for Alternative Addis, she found a space that also housed two other businesses. Two to three years ago, Cubox, a modular furniture brand that designs separate pieces of furniture that are used together to create a finished design, and Print and Frame, a business that prints art and photography into frames, were founded.
“Over time, we realized that centralizing certain facilities within our brands, such as administration and logistics, was the more efficient course of action. The more we examined it, the more we realized that all three companies had a certain synergy due to their focus on home décor and home products,” she said.
In September, they created Kikundi, a Swahili word for “collective” or “group,” to represent the coming together of the three brands. They opened a store within the Hilton Hotel, where they began displaying and selling their merchandise. Together, the companies sell upcycled glassware, modular furniture, and artistic frames for interior design and décor.
The company strives to design and create value from waste materials in order to prolong the lifespan of resources, thereby closing the resource loop. Utilizing a combination of creativity, innovation, and social responsibility to the environment, it has been able to produce a variety of glass containers and household items.