Repurpose Schoolbags: Upcycled, solar-powered bags enabling school children in South Africa to study after dark

Repurpose Schoolbags are upcycled plastic bags featuring integrated solar technology which is enabling school children in South Africa to study after dark.

Millions of school children in South Africa walk long distances to and from school on a daily basis. Once they return home, many of them are unable to study at night due to the absence of secure light sources.

Repurpose Schoolbags brings together recycling, solar energy and education for children. The concept for Repurpose Schoolbags is simple – while a child walks to school, the solar panel charges and then doubles up as a light for the child to study at night.

Designed to do more with less, Repurpose Schoolbags are made from 20 recycled plastic bags and integrate a solar panel, as well as reflective material on the bag to make it more visible when walking on the street. The bags are also waterproof.

The idea for Repurpose Schoolbags came about by a women-owned, for-profit business, Rethaka. Rethaka founders Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane identified barriers to education for school children in rural areas of Africa including lack of dignity as they use plastic bags to carry their books, not being able to study after dark due to high costs of kerosene and not visible or safe on their long walks to school.

Rethaka collects plastic bags from landfills and participating schools, and recycles them into textiles which are then used to make the bags.

Rethaka has manufactured over 10,000 Repurpose Schoolbags to date, distributed in five provinces within South Africa, as well as distributing into countries like Namibia, Niger and Nigeria. It has recycled over 400,000 plastic bags.

The startup is working on growing Rethaka to lead the Circular Economy in Africa. They also aim to having a presence in 24 African countries over the next 10 years.


Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and offers content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.