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Woman Finds Way To Recycle Plastic Into Bricks That Are Stronger Than Concrete

A woman from Kenya has recycled over 20 tonnes of plastic waste since launching a product made by turning plastic into bricks [1].

Mzamvi Matee is a materials engineer in Kenya who has become a successful entrepreneur. She grew tired of her country’s inaction to reduce plastic pollution and took matters into her own hands.

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The Gjenge Makers: Turning Plastic Into Bricks

For this reason, she founded Gjenge Makers. A company designed to create ‘sustainable low-cost construction materials made of recycled plastic,’ [4].

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Image Credit: Gjenge Makers

No matter where you are in the world, there is probably a problem with waste. Environmentalists have become mainstream in media and politics as countries work together to find a solution to our collective waste contribution. 

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A plastic obsessed world

The entire world has become obsessed and reliant on single-use plastic. Unfortunately, this has a significant negative impact on our environment.

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Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once— and then thrown away,” UN Environment shares [5].

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4 reasons why Single-use plastic is a problem

Image Credit: UN Environment

1. You can’t recycle it 

Yes, you read that right. Single use plastic can’t be recycled. That’s why the worldwide mass consumption of this type of plastic is so horrifying.

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2. It causes species to go instinct 

Plastic that can’t be recycled ends up in landfills and our oceans. Not only does this substantially affect our ecosystem, but species accidentally ingest plastic, which can cause a multitude of problems, and even be fatal.

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3. Creating plastics produces a substantial amount of carbon into our atmosphere 

Single-use plastic is everywhere and it’s created to have a product life of one use. This means that factories everywhere are pumping out more and more carbon to keep up with the demand for products we only use once. Not to mention the greenhouse gases they produce when degrading in landfills [8].

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4. It pollutes our oceans

Plastic that doesn’t end up in landfills ends up in our oceans. This not only means a significant change in our sea-life but also more garbage on our beaches.

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Plastic consumption is a worldwide problem

With this in mind, many of us point fingers at countries such as the United States or China. However, countries that are less lucrative can’t afford systems to get remove or reuse plastic. “Plastic pollution is a big problem and what causes this majorly is the single-use plastics including the single-use plastic including PET,” says Amos Wemanya from Greenpeace Africa [2].

Currently, Kenya only recycles 30 percent of single use plastic. As a result, the plastic that isn’t recycled ends up in places such as water streams and landfills [2].

A solution to this problem

However, Mzamvi Matee has a solution for this. Matee has developed a process that takes sacks of plastic and transforms them into bricks [1].

There is that waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get,” Matee shares [3].

Image Credit: Gjenge Makers

The material Matee gets to create her product comes from packaging companies and recyclers. She pays for the plastic from recyclers, but she gets plastic-free from the packaging companies [3].

“Essentially, companies have to pay to dispose waste, so we solved their problem. The waste essentially comes for free,” Matte shares [4].

Her progress

Matee’s factory creates 1,500 bricks every day that she claims are harder than regular bricks. 

Plastic is fibrous in nature, and therefore the bricks end up having a stronger compression strength”[4].

The process of turning plastic into bricks:

Each brick is a combination of different plastic types, blended together. 

To turn this plastic waste into bricks, Matee adds sand to the plastic mix. The next step is to heat the plastic and sand combination until it mixes. Finally, the mixture is compressed into bricks [3].  

Check out this video of Gjenge Makers creating these bricks:

Plastic Into Bricks: Expanding Operations

Currently, the company is only making pavement blocks but wants to expand its product line to building bricks [4].

Pricing can vary depending on features such as the color and thickness of different bricks. 

Because of Matee’s engineering background, she designed the machines used for this process. As a result of her brilliance, the factory has recycled 20 tonnes of waste in just three years [3]!

It’s almost half the weight, so therefore transportation and installation is faster in terms of cost implication,” she explains [4].

Lunga Lunga Mukuru Skills Training Centre
Image Credit: Gjenge Makers

Her impact

Matee’s invention is a part of a larger trend to increase a product’s life. In contrast to our old consumerism habits, it’s no longer acceptable to produce single-use items. 

Nzambi Matee’s innovation in the construction sector highlights the economic and environmental opportunities when we move from a linear economy, where products, once used, are discarded, to a circular one, where products and materials continue in the system for as long as possible,” says Soraya Smaoun [4].

Their Vision

Recently, Gjenge Makers won the young champions of the earth award. This accomplishment was a huge encouragement to the team to keep going. They hope to use their platform to attract partners and spread their operations all over Africa [4].

Additionally, they want to inspire other ambitious people from around the world to venture into similar projects [4].

Keep Reading: Major Beer Company Begins Using Biodegradable 6-Pack Rings That Feed Fish

Sources:

  1. Kenya Has a Perilous Plastic Pollution Problem.” Voa News. Arash Arabasadi.
  2. Woman Finds Way To Recycle Plastic Into Bricks That Are Stronger Than Concrete.” UNILAD. Hannah Smith. February 5, 2021.
  3. Kenyan recycles plastic waste into bricks stronger than concrete.” Reuters. Edwin Waita. February 2, 2021.
  4. Plastic bricks in Kenya – NZAMBI MATEE – Young Champion of the Earth 2020 for Africa.” Youtube. UN Environment Programme. December 19, 2020. 
  5. This World Environment Day, it’s time for a change.” Unenvironment
  6. 5 Facts That Will Make You Ditch Single-Use Plastics Forever.” Three Main
  7. Gjenge Makers.” Gjenge
  8. Degrading plastics revealed as source of greenhouse gases.” Science Daily. August 1, 2018.
Chloe Crawford
Freelance Writer
Chloe Crawford is a communications associate for TD Insurance. Before this role, Chloe pursued her honors undergraduate degree in business communications from Brock University. Chloe takes pride in her storytelling abilities – specifically the impact her advice articles, and her articles about Indigenous issues have made.
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