Wada Kealotswe, a young woman from Botswana who turns reading material into writing tools


While majority of the world seems to have moved on from the adverse effects pollution and climate change have on the environment, Wada Kealotswe, a native of Botswana is doing her bit in making sure the earth is safer for humans.

The damage production of newspaper and other reading materials have done to the environment is alarming. Hard to believe but for every ton of newspaper produced, 12 trees are destroyed. Of course we mean no harm.  All we want to do is strip the back, print out knowledge and share to the world but we also accidentally damage the world.

The African innovator is the CEO of her own pencil brand, Eco Zera Pencils which she started using her own savings. She participated in the 2019 youth conference in Washington where she got the idea to build a brand that is turns materials like newspapers into ecofriendly pencils.

She had originally pitched her idea with the World Bank for Smart and Resilient Cities before participating in the youth conference.

“Though this project made it to semi-finals, it did not make it to the finals but I have been inspired to continue with it so I found a brand called Eco Zera Pencils, which I self-funded”, she told Xinhua.

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“I knew that in Botswana, no-one was recycling newspapers, and I was always wondering, ‘where do they go?’ So I got in touch with The Voice and The Sunday Standard (two of Botswana’s most widely-read newspapers) and asked them. They told me they have a warehouse outside Gaborone where they just pile those newspapers. So I thought, ‘okay, I can source them – and maybe at a competitive price’.”

She revealed that Eco Zera Pencils have processed over 8000 newspapers, manufactured 40,000 pencils and sold 39,000 since she commenced the business two years ago in Gaborone. 80% of the manufacturing process is done by hand and the remaining 20% requires the use of machines which have significantly contributed to the climate change.

The newspapers are processed by cutting them to the size of the graphite. Paper glue is then used to secure the graphite to the slice of newspaper cutting after which the machine rolls the rest of the paper to make pencil rods secured by resin glue.

“When you look at them, or sharpen them, you would never know they’re made of paper,” Kealotswe says. And for those who like to take their writing or studying frustrations out on their tools, they have a pleasing snap as crisp as that of their wooden counterparts: “They’re very hard. If you break them, they break like wood.”

Apart from the profits she earns from the sales of pencils, she has also been able to raise awareness among her customers to purchase ecofriendly products. “We will reach a point where many trees are not cut to make pencils. Cutting down trees disrupts the ecosystem and by supporting green products, individuals can help.”, she added.

Her idea has also won her the SEEDs (Award for Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Development) Climate Adaptation 2021 Award, for managing waste.

Speaking to Forbes Africa, Kealotswe says she expects the brand to finally become profitable this year even with all the obstacles and the labour-intensive nature of the business. “Some of the challenges are the high cost of labor, and the fact that we have to source our other raw materials from abroad. We don’t have a port, so we rely on South Africa and Namibia,” she says. “And it’s not so easy to get finance for young people who need collateral. I self- funded my project, to overcome the challenge of having to go to banks or investment enterprises, so I didn’t have that stress. So how should I describe it? Yeah – that’s hustle!”


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