Archive for Recycling

Maya’s Ideas

Maya Penn is an entrepreneur, coder, philanthropist, designer, animator, writer, and illustrator. She was just 8 years old when she started her first company. Penn got interested in eco-friendly alternatives when her dad taught her about solar energy. She then discovered how harmful chemical dyes were to the environment and sought to combine that into a business idea. Penn out started by making ribbon headbands out of unused fabric around her house. The businesses started out with a $200 budget and grew from the profits received from there on out. Penn was taught how to sew from her mother. Her father was an entrepreneur and taught Penn about business and computers. At an early age Penn learned how to take apart a computer and even coded basic HTML at age 10. She now codes her own website. Her current online store is called Maya’s Ideas where she sells handcrafted clothes and accessories that are eco-friendly. The fabrics are organic or recycled. In 2013, Penn brought in $55,000 in sales and gave 10% to local charities. Penn always gives back to charities because her parents taught her to share with the less fortunate. Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet is her nonprofit and Penn volunteers locally to this day. In addition, Penn creates also creates videos that she animates, writes, and produces about the environment. She has also created two children’s books and has a novel on advice to young entrepreneurs. Penn advises to start an idea journal. She also said to “….believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Don’t get discouraged if things are going slower than you expected. And don’t give up too quickly.”


Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron—Grove Ecosystem

the grove ecosystem launches a kickstarter for its indoor garden a27a4805

Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron were roommates and seniors at MIT. Both were concerned about one of the most threatening problems that we as humans face on this earth today; global food unsustainability. As this was frequently on his mind, Jamie decided to build a DIY aquaponics prototype in the room he shared with Gabe, capturing the attention of many visitors of their room. This prototype would eventually become the idea for a brand called Grove Labs. Grove Labs is a company that produces nearly self-sustaining indoor aquaponics gardens in your home. One such product is the Grove Ecosystem, capable of growing substantial yields of vegetables and herbs, frequently up to a salad per day. The entire fertilization, filtration, hydration, and feeding system is contained within the area of a single bookshelf, utilizing an aquarium of fish and LED lights to allow the plants to grow. Since its inception, Grove Ecosystem has raised nearly half a million on Kickstarter.

Gabe and Jamie’s story is interesting, because it shows how something unique can be created out of passion for a particular subject. In this case, they felt strongly about food sustainability, and brainstormed a product that can answer many of the problems in this subject by creating a self-sustaining home ecosystem. In addition, I appreciate their innovation with this product, as they have taken two concepts (the home and the garden) which are inherently separate and distinct, and merged them into something greater that they are passionate about.



Ashton Cofer’s Styrofoam Filter

Styrofoam is a commonly used material. It’s useful in so many ways, but often styrofoam ends up in landfills too often. 25% of landfills comprise of styrofoam and takes up to 500 years to decompose. Ashton Cofer and three other students from Gahanna Middle School East developed foam trash into carbon to purify water.  The students were in eighth grade when the project started and are in currently ninth now. The students got the idea from a trip to Central America, where they found that styrofoam littered the area excessively. They began to think of ways to recycle foam because the solutions for recycling styrofoam was very limited and expensive. Cofer and his friends went through many failures to receive their final solution. The group got together a couple days a week to work on the project and divided up the work. Finally, the group found the solution with the correct temperatures, time, and chemicals. The final name for the idea was called Styro-Filter. The idea received a grant from eCYBERMISSION, First Global Innovation Awards, and from the Lego League. The money will be used to get a patent and further develop research. Ashton was even given the honor to explain his story on TedTalks. The project is a great humanitarian and chemical engineering victory. Cofer and his group turned a wasteful material into a useful material with some hard work and brainpower.


Solar Schoolbags

When Thato Kgatlhanye was 18 and fresh out of high school, she knew she wanted to do something for the underprivileged communities in South Africa where she grew up. She and her friend Rea Ngwane immediately founded the social enterprise ‘Rethaka’ without a single clue what they were going to do. 2 years later, they found the idea that would impact thousands of children across South Africa.

At age 21 in 2014, Thato Kgatlhanye founded the social enterprise Repurpose Schoolbags which takes plastic bags, upcycles them into durable schoolbags, and installs solar-powered lighting on the outside. The bag charges in the sun during the day, and turns into a portable light for the children to study with at night. It is also made with reflective material so the children are easily visible to traffic on their way to and from school.

The idea was inspired by Thato’s mother and the local impoverished communities of South Africa. Thato’s mother studied by candlelight when she was a child, and usually the candle would only last until Wednesday of the school week, meaning she couldn’t study on Thursday or Friday. Currently, many children in South Africa use plastic bags as schoolbags, and don’t have adequate lighting to study after school. Thato wanted to provide a sustainable solution, and so Repurpose Schoolbags was born.

Thato plans to light up 24 African nations, and has won over $40,000 in business competitions to sustain the enterprise. Her business’s impact is growing, and she was featured on the front of Forbes in February 2016. In the future she plans to expand the concept of solar lighting to raincoats for children, but for now her organization’s focus is on getting the solar schoolbags to as many children as possible. Her work has inspired many others, and I hope to see her company featured more as her influence expands across Africa.

Photo courtesy of

Sword & Plough – Bridging the Civil-Military Divide

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U.S. Army 1st Lt. Emily Núñez and her sister Betsy Núñez grew up in a military family, so for them, living on military bases and eating Thanksgiving dinner with hundreds of soldiers in a military mess hall was the norm.  However, when Emily went to Middlebury College, she realized the huge divide between military life and civilian life.  Most of her friends had never met someone in the military and had no idea what military life was like.  During this time, both Emily and Betsy began to realize how difficult it was for veterans to find work as they transitioned from military to civilian life.

These two problems  culminated into a business idea when Emily attended a social entrepreneurship symposium at her college, where the speaker talked about incorporating up-cycling into a business.  Emily had the idea of recycling military surplus into fashionable bags and accessories.  Emily quickly brought her sister, Betsy, on board and Sword & Plough was born.  The name, Sword & Plough comes from the phrase “to turn swords into ploughshares” from the book of Isaiah.  For Emily and Betsy, this means taking military technologies and materials and applying them to peaceful, military applications.

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Every stage of their business (from design, to production, to quality control, to sales) is done in the U.S.A. and done by veterans.  They even buy their supplies from companies owned and operated by veterans.  Emily and Betsy want their company to empower veterans and help in their transition back to civilian life.  They donate 10% of their profits to support veterans.  They also want to have their bags be a conversation starting point to strengthen military-civilian understanding and to bring to light veteran issues.  In fact, on their website, they have a “Wall of Heroes” to feature a different military personnel every week.

So far, Emily and Betsy’s idea has been a huge success.  They’ve been featured on shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show, and on sites like Business Insider and Forbes.  I encourage you to check out their website (click here!) to learn more about Sword & Plough, its products, and its mission.  I think that this company is poised to make some really important impacts in the near future.

College Hunks Hauling Junk

“Let Tomorrow’s Leaders Haul Your Junk Today”

The business idea is simple: capitalize on the extra energy and muscle of college students by hiring them to haul away things people don’t want – things that can be recycled, burned as fuel, or donated to charitable organizations. This three-fold aspect College Hunks Hauling Junk is one of the big reasons this business idea was selected by the Leigh Rothschild Business Plan Contest in 2004. Omar Soliman was the winner of $10,000 in this competition, and he used the money to get his business off the ground.

It was started even before Soliman and his partner Nick Friedman graduated from the University of Miami. But after graduation, they decided to take their idea and make it into something massive. Moving to D.C., they turned their small concept into a large-scale operation. But this wasn’t enough. In 2008, they moved again, this time to Tampa, FL to convert their company into a franchised firm. Since then, College Hunks Hauling Junk has made several “fastest growing companies” lists and in 2013 won the Franchise 500 Award.

The especially noteworthy trait of Omar Soliman and Nick Frieman is that these young men dreamed big. The idea they had designed was a good one, one that would have made a fantastic single firm in D.C. However, they realized that this business concept was one that could be even bigger than that. Today, they have 3 main locations and 47 franchises. That is success on a massive scale.

Soap Cycling: Twofold in Problem Solving and Education

david-bishop-soapcycling-300x175Have you ever thought about what happens to that bar of soap you open at a hotel for your night’s stay?  Shorter visits may only require you using less than a quarter of the bar, and before David Bishop thought about this conundrum the soap would be tossed out with the trash when housekeeping came around.  The estimated one million bars of soap from hotels thrown away each day in the United States then become chemical waste in landfills.  Bishop recognized this problem and connected it with another – child mortality rates.

Diarrhea kills 800,000 children under the age of five every year.  This is only one example of a disease that could be partially prevented if these people washed their hands with soap.  To combat this horrific statistic, Bishop, a Hong Kong law professor, began the organization Soap Cycling in 2011.

Soap Cycling works with the hospitality industry to collect, sanitize and recycle slightly used soaps and other sanitation amenities.  They then coordinate with NGOs to distribute the soap to children and families in disadvantaged communities, mostly in Asia.  A few of their more notable partners are Hilton Worldwide and the Lee Hysan Foundation.

Perhaps the most impressive and admirable aspect of Soap Cycling is the fact that none of its employees are paid.  Positions are filled by students from Bishop’s university and he supervises their work.  Other professionals in Hong Kong such as law, public relations and web design firms donate their time and efforts as well to form a well-run and effective nonprofit.

The idea that the bars of soap are not simply a handout is another takeaway from this organization.  Soap Cycling partners with schools and other establishments in the countries they reach to educate children on proper sanitation techniques.  This ensures that they are getting to the root of the problem and that the efforts put into collecting and distributing the soap are not wasted.  Soap Cycling is focused on changing lives, not on selling an image or a school project.

As a young company with many partners and constant pool of student workers, Soap Cycling is sure to continue growing and reaching new areas of the world.  They are driven by a passion to see children live long, healthy, and quality lives, and to give students an education in leadership, business, and empathy.  Hopefully every entrepreneur can look to this example and find

Soap Cycling Launch Video

From Trash to Musical Treasure: The Inspiring Landfill Harmonic



How it began: Several years ago, Favio Chávez was working at a massive landfill south of Asunción, Paraguay. He became  friends with the families who live among the trash and work as recyclers.  Chávez then figured out how to make musical instruments using the scraps of dirty oil cans, jars, wood, forks and other junk in the Cateura Landfill. He also created an orchestra with local kids as the members.

Chávez  is a musician with experience forming classical ensembles. He initially put  a few instruments together for the children who had nothing to play with. He was not planning on creating a brass and string section from scratch. After hearing the good sound that the instruments produced,however, he decided to perfect them. Using the help of a resident garbage picker named “Cola,”  Chávez constructed smooth sounding, built-to-scale cellos and violins, an astonishing feat considering that he used only basic carpentry skills and scraps from the landfill.

Landfill Orchestra Chávez’s orchestra now has 30 members and although is has been a big commitment for the children and their families, they have received worldwide recognition. They’ve performed several places such as Argentina, Brazil, and Germany. A U.S based film maker even made a documentary about them and their inspiring story.

The children and  Chávez  say that ultimately the goal of the music project is to educate the public about a world problem that they feel shouldn’t be ignored. Were it not for Chávez and the Landfill Harmonic, these children would never get a chance to learn how to play an instrument or be a part of an orchestra. To many of these children, music is a form of hope and a true joy. It is the best part of their lives.

“I made this orchestra to educate the world and raise awareness,“ says Chávez. “But it’s also a social message to let people know that even though these students are in extreme poverty, they can also contribute to society.  They deserve an opportunity.” 

Read more:

This is an amazing video about the Landfill Harmonic. Please, check it out!