Nzambi Matee is a Keynan entrepreneur that was tired of the government’s inaction on plastic pollution, so she decided to combat the problem herself. The idea she got? To create bricks out of recycled plastic!
Matee is a Nairobi-based materials engineer who decided to create the process to turn ‘trash into cash’. She’s converting sacks of plastic waste and builds materials that she says are ‘five to seven times stronger’ than typical concrete bricks. Her company is named Gjenge Makers, and it produces around 1,500 bricks each day. She has already recycled more than 20 tonnes of plastic waste since the production line first opened back in 2017. It’s important to note that she designed the production line herself!
Her company works with fellow packaging factories that offload their waste to Gjenge Makers for free. They do it instead of paying to send the waste to recycling companies. Matee explained to Reuters that her company only gets the waste other companies cannot process anymore and cannot recycle.
The bricks made by Gjenge Makers are made out of a mixture of three types of plastic: high density polyethylene, low density polyethlyene, and polypropylene. All of these materials in found in every product packaging, such as shampoo bottles and buckets. The sacks of plastic waste that get delivered to the factory get melted down, then they’re mixed with sand, and then compressed into brick moulds of varying shapes, sizes, and even colors! Matee says that her bricks are sustainable, and they cost about $7,70 for a typical batch – which is really cheap!
Matee decided to set up her factory because she was tired of being on the sidelines when it comes to the plastic waste pollution problem in Kenya. She claims that the process of setting up her own production line was like jumping off a cliff without a parachute, but her innovation has since paid off and she now plans to open a second production line and triple the capacity.
She was named Africa’s Young Champion of the Earth for 2020 by the UN Environment Programme, and her work has been praised for highlighting the economic and environmental opportunities when people move from a linear economy.