Day 188 – Lighter, stronger and less expensive than concrete. That’s what Nzambi Matee created when she made bricks from recycled plastic. In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the 26 year old saw a problem and used her savings to find a solution.
Nairobi generates 550 tons of plastic waste every day.
Nzambi started by setting up a small lab in her mother’s backyard where she would prototype bricks made from a mix of plastic waste and sand. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), named her one of its 2020 Young Champions of the Earth. When she won a scholarship to attend a social entrepreneurship training program at the University of Colorado Boulder, she took early prototypes with her, further refining them in the university’s labs. Matee also used her time at the school to design the machines needed to mass produce the plastic bricks.
She went on to found Gjenge Makers, which transforms plastic waste into durable building materials. Matee gets the waste from packaging factories for free, although she pays for the plastic she gets from other recyclers. Her factory produces 1,500 bricks each day, made from a mix of different kinds of plastic. Her factory has recycled 20 tons of waste plastic since its founding in 2017.
Gjenge Makers currently offers multiple colors of its plastic bricks in three different thicknesses — the thicker the brick, the stronger it is, but even the thinnest option is able to hold twice the weight of concrete bricks. The plastic bricks are also cheaper than ones made of concrete and about half their weight, making them easier to transport.
Nzambi’s bricks can be found at homes, car parks, and schools throughout Nairobi. She is now working to add another production line to her factory. Once in place, her startup should be able to produce three times as many pavers every day.
“The negative impact we are having on the environment is huge. It’s up to us to make this reality better. Start with whatever local solution you can find and be consistent with it. The results will be amazing.” – Nzambi Matee
Tomorrow, a plastic challenge.