An Eco-Friendly Manufacturing Plant is Turning Plastic into Bricks
After Kenya imposed a ground-breaking law in 2017 on the use, manufacturing and import of plastic bags as part of global efforts to limit plastic waste, four engineers in Nairobi saw an opportunity in the estimated 500 tonnes of plastic waste the city generates daily and founded Gjenge Makers — a company that recycles plastic bottle tops and cooking oil containers into environmentally friendly bricks.
Nzambi Matee, a co-founder of Gjenge Makers, explains how it came about.
"So we started by collecting plastic waste and selling it to recyclers. That was in 2017, and then we realised three to six months later that we were collecting more waste than we could sell, than the recyclers could absorb. So that's when we decided what more we could do with the remaining plastic, as a value-added aspect, to see if we could put a product on the market using the plastic waste, and that's how we started making the paving stones".
Grey pavers sell for around 8 euros per square meter, while coloured pavers sell for around 10 euros.
Matee describes the logic behind the ecologically-sound operation, "Once the manufacturers package the soft drinks, or whatever product they are packaging, once the consumer finishes with that product, they have nowhere else to take it other than the litter box. And so, with that, we decided why don't we create a plug where instead of having the plastic to go the dumpsite, we intercept it on the way, and hence we started the making business."
The waste is then crushed into small pellets, sorted according to colour, mixed with sand and the desired colour pigment — before being taken onto the production line where they are moulded and put into a hydraulic press.
Ann Muthoni, the Programme Coordinator at Mukuru Slums Development Projects, shares some inside information, "We had used the ballast before, but most of the trainees were complaining the ballast was damaging their shoes, so the Gjenge pavers, we find them very friendly. Walking on them feels like you are walking on rubber*
Gjenge Makers can currently produce up to 1,500 bricks a day with homeowners and schools as clients.
The West Dumping Plastic Waste in Africa
Although many African countries are making an effort to overcome the pressing issue of plastic waste, their efforts are often thwarted — as many countries in the Western world have used many nations in Africa as their plastic waste dumîng ground.
In April, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) - whose members include Shell, Exxon, Total, DuPont and Dow, companies already guilty of polluting many rivers in Africa via oil drilling and oil spills, proposed investments in recycling in Kenya with a catch.
The recycling investment deal is one only provided that the recipient country accepts US plastic waste i.e. Kenya would get about 500 million tonnes of plastic waste exports from the US per year.
Plastic But Not a Superficial Issue
According to a 2018 United Nations (UN) report, an estimated 13 million tonnes of plastic waste flows into the planet's oceans each year. Consequently, marine species ingest or become entangled by plastic debris — sometimes causing injury or even death and little is known about the effects of microplastics on sea creatures or humans.
A 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) report stated that levels of microplastics in drinking water don't appear to be risky, but research has not thorough with more needing to be conducted on how this could affect the environment and the health of the various animal populations.
In June 2020, Kenya banned the use of single-use plastics in protected natural areas - such as national parks, beaches, and forests in June 2020. However, single-use plastic waste can still be found across the East African country.
Environmentalists and recyclers worldwide are still looking into new ways to overcome the issue of plastic waste.