To some, bottle tops are useless and are thrown away once they open bottles to gulp the contents. But to Wesley Dennis Chimganda, they are a source of his livelihood.
Chimganda uses bottle tops to make an assortment of household utensils such as trays, wine bottle holders, picture frames and wall mats.
Born in 1973 at Kandaye Village, Traditional Authority Maganga in the central Malawi district of Salima, Chimganda ventured into the trade after he lost his clerical job with the Evangelical Lutheran Development Project.
â€œSoon after school, I got a clerical job with the Evangelical Lutheran Development Project. I worked briefly with the project before I was declared redundant. I was not bitter because I knew I would be able to get another job somewhere,â€ he said.
Since he had no job, he went to Dwangwa to stay with his sister who was working at sugar estates.
While there, he tried several small-scale businesses, but nothing worked.
In 2004, Southern Bottlers Limited now Carlsberg Malawi ran a competition in which customers would remove bottle top linings and send them to the company to win various awards.
Chimganda decided to try his luck. He used to go to trading centres to collect bottle tops and send the linings to Carlsberg Malawi. When the competition was over, he had thousands of bottle tops at home.
At first he wanted to throw them away, but on a second thought he decided to make small trays by joining the bottle tops using twine.
It worked and many people liked the trays. The only problem was that the joints were not strong enough and he tried using copper wire and twine to make his products durable.
That did not work either as the products were still not strong enough to withstand the test of time. Then he tried silver wire which was stronger than the copper wire.
â€œThat was my turning point. I discovered that by using the silver wire, the products were not only strong, but also beautiful.
â€œIn 2006, I decided to move to Lilongwe. I knew I would make more money in the capital city than anywhere else in the country,â€ he recounted.
Today, Chimganda does not only have a reliable market, but also a steady supply of bottle tops from hotels and bottle stores in the city.
Chimganda buys a 50 kilogramme bag of bottle tops from waiters and bottle store owners at K1 000.
He said he mostly sells his products to tourists visiting the city.
â€œA tray sells at K3 500, wall mat at K10 000 and boxes at K1 500. I sell most of my products to foreigners. I urge Malawians to also support home industry. Although my products look ordinary, they are very good souvenirs,â€ he said.
Looking forward, Chimganda wants to open a small company that would be turning bottle tops into different household items.
â€œIf the dream comes true, then I will contribute to the reduction of unemployment as I will offer jobs to some people,â€ he said.
When you visit Lilongwe next time, make a date with Chimganda at the curios market near Opportunity Bank in Old Town.