Bongani Ndlovu, columnist
Students at LUPANE State University (LSU) have found an innovative way to turn plastic bottles into a fertilizer product called “Petilizer,” which they believe could contribute to sustainable agriculture nationwide.
The innovative project is part of the students’ efforts to provide a solution for managing plastic waste and improving agricultural activities in Matabeleland, and specifically in the Lupane district.
Through this innovative breakthrough, LSU students are also tackling global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as “No to Poverty”, “Zero Hunger”, “Decent Work and Economic Growth”, “Climate Action” and “Life on Earth”.
According to the students, the process can turn 100 kg of PET plastic bottles into 330 kg of fertilizer, through melting, adding worms and compost.
The students participated in the ENACTUS Zimbabwe national competition last week where they pitched the project and won the top prize, along with a Z$400,000 package.
Boost Fellowship is running the competition as part of their ENACTUS program, a platform for teams of college/university students to take entrepreneurial action for others while using business principles and innovation to advance goals global development and create a lasting positive impact on people, planet and prosperity.
LSU took first place, Midlands State University second, University of Zimbabwe third and NUST fourth in the final.
Mr. Bukhosi Dumoluhle Mpofu, who is Educational Advisor at LSU, Head of Business Clinic Development and Lecturer in the Department of Human Capital Development, also won the award for Educational Advisor of the Year in the same competition.
For their efforts, the LSU team will represent Zimbabwe at the World Cup in Puerto Rico from October 30 to November 3.
ENACTUS Zimbabwe Lupane Vice President, Ms. Ayanda Jele, said plastic waste has contributed to the death of many cattle in Zimbabwe.
“Plastic waste on plants like sorghum and sudangrass adds a deadly component, cyanide, which accumulates in plants used for grazing livestock and eventually causes prussic acid poisoning,” he said. she declared.
“Lupane District, Matabeleland has not only been faced with this problem, but also with a global pandemic (Covid-19) and water shortages, which has brought communities to their knees.”
Ms Jele said through these issues they saw an opportunity to protect the area. After collecting the PET bottles, she said they began the processing stage, which involves melting, worming and composting.
“The plastic bottles are first melted down to change the structure, then we braid them and make thin strips. We then added manure, which is rotten food collected mostly from the dining hall of Lupane State University,” Ms Jele said.
“Then we add the Galleria Melonella worms. This worm is our breakthrough discovery because it eats the plastic and eventually dies and leaves behind solid and liquid biomass, which can be used as fertilizer or biogas. This can be broken down into methane and carbon dioxide. »
Ms Jele said the whole process takes about two weeks from when they smell the plastic bottles to when the fertilizer is ready.
She said they came up with the innovation because of the somewhat barren soils in the region in which LSU is located and to achieve SDG 2, Zero Hunger.
“We come from a semi-arid region where rainfall is intermittent. We want to allow cultures to survive. Plastic waste has caused problems when it comes to livestock farming as they die after eating plastics and the plastics contaminate plants. And with the Petilizer we want to increase yields,” said Ms. Jele.
SDG 2 aims to ensure by 2030 sustainable food production and the implementation of resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, help maintain ecosystems, build capacity to adapt to climate change, harsh conditions extreme weather, drought, floods and other disasters and gradually improve the land. and soil quality.
Ms Jele said they engaged the community to build a foundry where they dug a hole and melted the plastic bottles.
“We dug a hole in the ground, made a bonfire, put buckets of water to collect the smoke and we burned the plastic on the bonfire. It is a model that can be adopted even in our absence. When we become commercial, we will have a foundry,” Ms Jele said.
In a separate interview, Mr Mpofu said their samples were cheaper than the going market price for fertilizers.
“Our dressing top costs about 3 USD less for 10 kg. Ours contains 16% more nitrogen than normal top dressing and it’s environmentally friendly as we don’t use any chemicals. The packaging we intend to use is easily recyclable and biodegradable,” he said.
“So, with 100 kg of PET bottles, we can produce 330 kg of fertilizer. The production price is 4.50 USD and we have a 30% markup which brings it to 5.85 USD per 10 kg. Normally the top dressing cost $35-$45 per 50kg bag and we are cheaper.
Mr Mpofu said they were selling samples and waiting for approval to go commercial.
“So far what has happened is that we have yet to register with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe and we are awaiting our MoUs with the EMA and Agritex,” he said. declared.
“The ultimate goal is to create jobs and reduce hunger according to the different SDGs. As long as the community is involved and benefits when we go commercial, we aim to be able to employ the community. »
Mr. Mpofu said that when they go commercial, the innovation will be left to the community to manage.
He was responsible for bringing innovation to life, which is the culmination of collaboration between students from various degrees such as marketing, accounting, animal husbandry and biotechnology, development studies, entrepreneurship and supply and supply.
The Marketing Management students are Letwina Amanda Hove, Bunake Ncube, Farai Mapuvire, Ashel Mangoro, Tawana Dube, Lindelwe Jojo Maphosa, Prince Sibanda, Herbert Dzwairo, Ashton Machokoto and Tendai Murombo.
The others are Ayanda Jele who studies entrepreneurship, Bhekumuzi Nyathi – accounting and finance, Jessica Pullen – Masters in animal husbandry and biotechnology, Praise Lord Paradza – supply and supply, Ornate Sisasenkosi Sibanda – economics and Nkosilamandla Kunene who studies development .