Turning Waste Plastic Into Bricks
Kenyan entrepreneur, Nzambi Matee, has created a method for turning waste plastic into bricks more durable than concrete.
The Problem of Plastic Waste
Single-use plastic is one of the key contributors to waste pollution, and Kenya alone produces 500 metric tonnes every day. The ocean, in particular, has been victim to this global issue. There are 5.25 trillion pieces of macro and micro plastic in the ocean, many of which are lodged in the stomachs of marine creatures. More than 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year.
Although there has been an increased effort from governments across the globe to address the issue of plastic pollution, not enough is being done. It is taking entrepreneurs like Nzambi Matee to take on the challenge and attempt to make a difference.
Matee launched Gjenge Makers, the company turning plastic waste into building blocks, in 2018. Her motivation to create the company was due to the growing plastic waste on Nairobi’s streets. “You have to be true to your why. Why do you do this? What is your motivation behind it? For me, I was just tired of being on the sidelines of seeing plastic,” she explains. Working as a Data analyst and engineer, she quit her job and built a laboratory to test methods of creating building blocks with waste plastic. She received a scholarship to work at the University of Colorado Boulder. Here she developed a prototype for the machine they now use at Gjenge Makers to turn plastic into bricks. Gjenge Makers has created 112 jobs for the local community, and has recycled more than 20 tonnes of plastic so far. Matee and her team won Young Champions of the Earth, which Matee explains helped motivate their team to continue their mission to reduce plastic waste.
Gjenge Makers Team
The team takes all kinds of single-use plastic waste products, such as bags and containers, and transforms them into bricks for paving and construction.
The method involves combining plastic and sand, and placing them on a high heat. The plastic acts as a binder for the sand. As plastic is fibrous in nature, these bricks are in fact stronger and more durable than their concrete counterparts. Furthermore, their light nature makes transport much more cost-effective.
The team will often source the waste plastic from factories, which is often given to them for free. Many factories have to pay for their plastic recycling, so this alternative is beneficial for them, and allows Gjenge Makers to collect large quantities of material for free. The free resources, for Gjenge Makers, also helps them price their products lower, to make them more affordable for local schools and homeowners.
Gjenge Makers’ Pavers