Samuel Gedamu's Audacious Quest to Transform Plastic Recycling in Africa
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Profiles - Uncategorized - October 7, 2023

Samuel Gedamu’s Audacious Quest to Transform Plastic Recycling in Africa

Samuel Gedamu, an Eritrean national, is a visionary leader who is propelling a recycling revolution beyond the borders of his homeland. His commitment to environmental sustainability was ignited by Eritrea’s early strides against plastic waste. Now based in Ethiopia, he’s orchestrating a transformative movement across Africa. 

Samuel is the founder of Green Solutions Africa, a company that set out to revolutionise waste management practices and champion a greener future for the continent. In this exclusive interview, Business Elites Africa delves into Samuel’s inspiring journey, exploring his trailblazing approach and the profound impact of his work, which transcends nations and echoes a call for change throughout Africa.

Can you take us back to the moment that ignited your passion for sustainability and environmental responsibility? Was there a particular event or experience that made you commit to this cause?

Growing up in Eritrea, a country that took early and progressive steps in banning plastic bags, I was immersed in a culture where environmental responsibility was ingrained. Witnessing the positive impact of such measures on our surroundings, I developed an early awareness of the importance of sustainability. However, it was when I left Eritrea and ventured into different parts of the world that I truly understood the urgency of the global plastic waste crisis.

The realisation struck me that the world needed more than just recycling or upcycling solutions. We needed a comprehensive approach, a vertically integrated system that addresses plastic waste from its very inception as raw materials. This led me to commit to a cause that goes beyond the conventional methods. My journey in sustainability began with a conviction to establish a closed-loop system that not only transforms plastic waste but also prevents its accumulation by intercepting it before it becomes waste.

This passion eventually gave birth to Green Solutions Africa, where we introduced the innovative plastic credit system. This system empowers responsible stakeholders to take action in eliminating plastic waste, effectively creating a synergy between businesses, communities, and the environment. My experiences growing up in a conscious environment, coupled with my global travels, have culminated in a purpose-driven commitment to tackle plastic waste and foster a sustainable future

Throughout your journey as a sustainability leader, what are some moments

that stand out as particularly impactful or transformative, either professionally or personally?

There have been moments that have profoundly shaped my perspective and approach, both on a personal and professional level. One pivotal experience that stands out involves a realisation that stemmed from a personal story. It was during a moment of introspection that I asked myself why, despite the glaring plastic waste problem, the issue hadn’t been effectively addressed. Digging deeper, I recognized that the root of the problem lay in the economics of recycling. The insights I gained from the plastic industry were the fact that virgin plastic was often cheaper to procure than recycled materials. This understanding was shocking, shedding light on why many prominent companies didn’t prioritise recycling or upcycling in their operations.

However, the most transformative moment came during an interview with a team from Coca-Cola in Ethiopia. I was enthusiastically presenting Green Solutions’ innovative approach, particularly our plan to upcycle plastic waste into construction materials. As I shared our vision, the Coca-Cola team raised a pertinent question: How would our initiative directly or indirectly benefit them? This question forced me to reevaluate my perspective. It dawned on me that while my intention was commendable, the approach needed refinement. After all, it wasn’t just about convincing businesses to engage in sustainability for the greater good; it was about aligning sustainability with their own interests.

Returning from that interview, I had to rethink our strategy. It was evident that for companies to actively participate in waste management, they needed an incentive that directly impacted their operations. This realisation led to the inception of our plastic credit system, a concept that bridges the gap between businesses, environmental responsibility, and profit. With my team, we embarked on a brainstorming journey, meticulously developing a mechanism that would allow companies like Coca-Cola to offset their plastic footprint by purchasing plastic credits from us. This transformed Green Solutions into a platform that offers an inclusive solution for anyone seeking to contribute to plastic waste reduction.

These moments have collectively propelled me to adopt a more holistic approach to sustainability. They’ve taught me that by aligning environmental responsibility with economic benefits, we can drive meaningful change that resonates with businesses, communities, and the environment.”

Can you share a difficult period you’ve faced and how you managed to maintain your resolve and continue pushing forward?

In the early stages of building Green Solutions from the ground up, I found myself caught in a cycle that many entrepreneurs know all too well: burnout. The passion driving my commitment to sustainability was undeniable, but somewhere along the way, the relentless pursuit of perfection led to a state of exhaustion. Not only was I feeling the weight of the responsibilities on my shoulders, but I could also sense the same fatigue permeating my team.

It was a pivotal moment when I realised that my focus on our products and services had caused me to neglect a critical component which is sales. The business was not just about creating revolutionary solutions; it was about ensuring those solutions reached the right partners and customers. The disconnect between our groundbreaking innovations and their market presence was taking a toll on everyone’s morale.

This led me to take a step back and reevaluate our approach. I recognized that while lofty goals were important, they could inadvertently lead to burnout when pursued without respite. It was time to shift our mindset and embrace the power of celebrating small victories.

Our team meetings took on a new tone. Instead of glossing over challenges, I encouraged open discussions about setbacks and difficulties. This transparency fostered a sense of unity and support, making it clear that we were all in this together. We acknowledged that each obstacle was an opportunity for growth, not a roadblock to success.

The act of celebrating small wins became a cornerstone of our culture. We rejoiced in securing a new partnership, overcoming technical glitches, and even refining the wording of a proposal. These seemingly minor achievements, which might have been overshadowed by our grand ambitions, became powerful sources of motivation. They reminded us that progress, no matter how incremental, was a testament to our dedication and hard work.

With this change in perspective, the team’s energy gradually started to shift. Burnout began to dissipate, replaced by a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation . The environment within our organisation transformed from one of fatigue to one of inspiration.

Embracing this philosophy allowed us to not only weather the storms but also thrive in the face of challenges. It’s true that we need big goals to drive us forward, but we also need to celebrate the journey and the small milestones that shape our path. As we recognized the value of these small wins, we found our momentum building anew, pushing us toward even greater success.

Your background spans trade, finance, and now sustainability. How have these seemingly diverse fields intersected in your life, and how do they contribute to your unique perspective on promoting sustainable practices?

Starting with Educational psychology as a degree and transformation through trade, finance, and now sustainability. While these domains might appear disparate, they’ve harmoniously converged to shape my distinct perspective on driving sustainable practices.

As I ventured into the world of sustainability, I saw a unique opportunity to connect these dots. My background equipped me to navigate the financial intricacies of businesses while appreciating the human element that’s often overlooked. I realised that promoting sustainable practices isn’t just about presenting a compelling case; it’s about understanding the intricate interplay between economic growth, societal well-being, and environmental stewardship.

This blend of expertise and insight has become the driving force behind my approach. It’s about fusing my analytical acumen from trade and finance with the people-centric perspective from my educational psychology background. This fusion allows me to craft strategies that not only make business sense but also resonate with individuals on a personal level.

My foray into trade and finance initially exposed me to the intricacies of global markets, where decisions often revolve around profitability and economic impact. These experiences underscored the importance of understanding the underlying drivers of decision-making within businesses. But it was my transition into sustainability that added a new dimension to this perspective. I understood that profitability doesn’t have to be at odds with environmental responsibility; in fact, they can be intrinsically linked.

How has your cultural background influenced your approach to sustainability, and are there any cultural values that you’ve integrated into your initiatives?

Growing up in Eritrea, a country known for its resilience and resourcefulness in the face of challenges, has deeply influenced my approach to sustainability. Eritrea’s cultural values have left an indelible mark on my character and the way I perceive environmental responsibility.

Eritrean culture places a strong emphasis on collective responsibility and community well-being. This collective mindset, as highlighted by Eritrea’s struggle for independence, has guided me to view sustainability as a collaborative endeavour that involves businesses, communities, and individuals working together for a common cause. Just as Eritreans support each other, I believe that collective action is crucial for making meaningful and lasting changes.

The history of Eritrea’s struggle for independence has instilled in me a profound appreciation for innovation amid adversity. Eritrea’s ability to find innovative solutions despite limited resources has shaped my approach to addressing sustainability challenges with creativity and determination. I believe that just as Eritrea has overcome obstacles through innovation, we can find creative solutions to environmental issues.

Eritrea’s deep respect for its cultural heritage has taught me to extend that reverence to our natural environment. This cultural value has motivated me to advocate for responsible resource management, waste reduction, and circular economy practices. I work towards safeguarding our environment for future generations.

Eritrea’s cooperative foreign policy, rooted in mutual respect and collaboration, has inspired my belief in the power of partnerships in sustainability. I aim to collaborate with diverse stakeholders, much like Eritrea seeks partnerships for mutual benefit, to collectively address environmental challenges and drive positive change.

An article from Margaret Kimberley in Black Agenda Report named “ERITREA CELEBRATES FREEDOM” gives a glimpse into the Eritrean culture of self-reliance, and I have also written a response article titled “Why Eritrean Generation Celebrates Its Freedom.” These articles highlight the cultural values that have profoundly shaped my perspective on sustainability and my commitment to promoting responsible practices.

Beyond the organisational impact, how has your work in sustainability affected you on a personal level? Have there been any unexpected changes or revelations in your own lifestyle as a result of your advocacy?

Undoubtedly, my journey in sustainability has made a profound impact on my personal life, leading to unexpected changes and revelations that have enriched my daily experiences. You see, those who know me well often find it amusing that I’ve become the person known for carrying around a bit of plastic trash in my pocket. Whether it’s gum wrappers or other small bits, I’ve adopted this habit as a way to lead by example and remind those around me that what might seem like waste can still be repurposed through upcycling. It’s become a talking point and a way to spark conversations about responsible waste management.

Interestingly, this practice has even influenced my social circles. My soon-to-be fiancée, for instance, has started making small changes like keeping plastic bags for reuse and bringing her own reusable bag when grocery shopping. These seemingly minor shifts in behaviour remind me that our individual actions can ripple outward, inspiring positive changes in others.

On a personal note, these changes have added a layer of passion to my life. Seeing sustainability seep into my everyday routine has this way of igniting my purpose. It’s like a personal reminder that what we do at Green Solutions Africa isn’t just ‘work,’ it’s part of who I am. These experiences fuel my determination, knowing that even the tiniest steps can light up a bigger change

It’s often perceived that sustainable practices come at a higher cost. How have you managed to strike a balance between profitability and environmental responsibility within your organisation?

striking the balance between profitability and environmental responsibility has been a cornerstone of Green Solutions journey. Our vertically integrated solution is pivotal in enabling all stakeholders to actively contribute to our mission, whether they are part of our organisation or other professionals seeking to align with sustainability goals.

Our innovative approach doesn’t just focus on upcycling and recycling; it encompasses a full-scale closed-loop system. This means we engage with all actors, from businesses to individuals, to play a role in plastic waste management. Our plastic credit system, which is an integral part of our solution, allows organisations to advance their ESG goals seamlessly. By simply diverting their plastic waste to us and participating in our credit system, they can effectively reduce their plastic footprint. This not only aligns with their commitment to sustainability but also offers branding and marketing opportunities as they actively contribute to a greener world.

Moreover, our disruptive collection system has transformed the way plastic waste is managed. We’ve democratised waste collection by creating collection sites accessible to anyone who can gather plastic waste. This inclusive approach ensures that everyone, from waste pickers to individuals, has the opportunity to be part of the solution. They can bring their collected plastic to our sites and receive compensation, creating a powerful incentive for responsible waste management.

In essence, our vertically integrated solution empowers businesses, professionals, and individuals to participate in the sustainability movement. By providing avenues for meaningful engagement, we demonstrate that profitability and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand. Through collaboration, innovation, and a circular economy mindset, we’re enabling a collective effort towards reducing plastic waste and driving positive change.

Technology and mechanisation are key to driving efficiency. In your opinion, how can these advancements be harnessed to promote sustainable practices, especially in sectors that traditionally have a higher environmental footprint?

The integration of technology and mechanisation holds incredible potential to drive efficiency and promote sustainable practices, particularly in sectors that historically have had a higher environmental footprint. In Africa, where technological leapfrogging is reshaping industries, we’re uniquely positioned to harness these advancements for the greater good.

At Green Solutions Africa, we’ve embraced this paradigm shift by combining mechanical processes of upcycling with our innovative plastic credit system. This empowers us to equip the plastic lifecycle with a sophisticated algorithm that accounts for various factors, including ease of recycling or upcycling, responsible waste handling, and the overall environmental impact of plastic production and disposal.

Take the example of a manufacturing company operating in a sector with traditionally high plastic consumption. By integrating technology, we can gather essential data points, such as the type and quantity of plastic produced, the manufacturing processes employed, energy and resource consumption, carbon footprint, and end-of-life management strategies. This data-driven approach enables us to assess the company’s plastic usage comprehensively.

With this wealth of information, our platform is primed to facilitate a closed-loop system. We can track and trace the journey of plastic waste, from production to recycling or upcycling. This transparency fosters accountability and encourages responsible practices among manufacturers. It also lays the foundation for informed decision-making and the implementation of sustainable alternatives.

Furthermore, our platform can serve as a repository of insights, sharing best practices, benchmarking progress, and enabling companies to collaboratively reduce their plastic footprint. This integration of technology, mechanisation, and data-driven analysis paves the way for more efficient and sustainable practices in sectors that historically posed challenges to environmental stewardship.

In the context of Africa’s tech-driven evolution, this approach showcases how we can harness innovation to tackle complex environmental issues. By leveraging technology to streamline processes, facilitate informed decision-making, and foster collaboration, we are reshaping the landscape of sustainability. Through initiatives like ours, we envision a future where even sectors with traditionally high environmental footprints can actively contribute to a cleaner and greener world.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes for Green Solutions and your impact on sustainability? 

Our roadmap is simple yet powerful: Collect, Transform, Track. Here’s how we’ll make a difference:

Collect: We’ll expand our Green Generation collection system to reach more countriesacross Africa, making it easier for people to recycle and upcycle.

Transform: we’ll upcycle plastic waste to create affordable full housing units expanding from tiles, decking and so on, redefining construction practices.

Track: We’ll hold plastic producers accountable by involving them in our Plastic Credit system, ensuring responsible plastic use.

In 3 years, we’ll lead in upcycling, expand globally, and reduce plastic waste. In 5 years, we’ll revolutionise waste management. And in 10 years, we’ll change the norm, from waste to sustainability. Watch us transform industries and create a greener future.

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