Using invasive alien plants to develop eco- furniture for disadvantaged schools in South Africa

Submitted by: Tholakele Nene, Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) through the Working for Water (WfW) programme, and with funding from the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), have initiated a project that uses invasive alien vegetation to create school furniture for poor schools around the country. The project encourages the use of natural resources to produce value added material and creates green jobs in the process.

The desks are made from Eucalyptus wood, an invasive species being cleared from water catchments as part of the DEA’s WfW initiative. According to the DEA’s Acting Director Nceba Ngcobo, alien species spread quickly and use up large volumes of water that would otherwise find its way into rivers and dams to provide drinking water for people and for agriculture.

The programme was first piloted in 2010 by the DEA and the Invasive Alien Species Programme. It has recently benefited 250 learners at Maatla Primary School in Maruleng, Limpopo by providing them with desks.

The idea was sparked by a project in KwaZulu-Natal which makes coffins using felled alien vegetation as an eco- friendly and more affordable way of producing furniture.

Creating green opportunities

Through the initiative about 50 previously unemployed community members now have jobs and an opportunity to further develop new skills. The employees are divided into teams. The bush team harvests the wood by going into the field to find and cut the timber, this is later delivered to the factory. The second team is stationed at the factory and is responsible for preparing and drying the wood before the third team has to take over making and varnishing the desks. 

The desks, which cost roughly R420, each come in a kit for easy packaging and transporting. The DEA also dispatches a team that goes out to schools to teach the school and community on how to assemble the desks.

According to Ngcobo, “If the desks are taken care of they can last for more than 10 years, which is longer than the chipboard desks used in schools. They just need to be varnished every once in a while”.

Encouraging the Recycle and Re-use concept

As a way of encouraging the recycle and re-use concept the DEA also encourages community members and school children to collect and donate discarded school furniture to the DEA. This furniture is sent to the factory and used to make new products. This means that material which would otherwise end up in landfills or taking up space in school yards can now be reused to make new material.

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Tholakele Nene