Thursday, May 23, 2024

How Kenya’s Nzambi Matee is Recycling Plastic for Bricks

With her Nairobi-based startup company Gjenge Makers, Nzambi Matee produces cheap and lightweight bricks from recycled plastic and sand.

by Likam Kyanzaire

 Concrete is considered one of the most destructive materials on Earth, and its widespread use has significant environmental consequences. The production of cement, a primary component of concrete, generates a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, contributing between 4-8% of total global CO2 emissions. Concrete has a significant negative impact on the environment

 Cement production is a complex process that also generates other environmental impacts such as air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination. After the cement is produced, it is then mixed with an aggregate composed of sand, gravel, other materials, and water to make concrete. The aggregate used in the production of concrete is typically sourced from local bodies of water and can have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, the production and transportation of concrete require significant amounts of energy and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are serious about sustainably managing our environment then we need a more environmentally friendly building material. Enter Nzambi Matee. Young, ambitious and incredibly talented Ms. Matee is the winner of the Young Champion of the Earth 2020 Africa award at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The award “provides seed funding and mentorship to promising environmentalists as they tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.”

With her Nairobi-based startup company Gjenge Makers, Nzambi Matee produces cheap and lightweight bricks from recycled plastic and sand. Gjenges plastic bricks have been used in community projects like the Karai Munsingen Children’s Home, but in time we may be all walking on plastic.

How Kenya's Nzambi Matee is Recycling Plastic for Bricks

Kenya’s Nzambi Matee

Concrete Kingdoms

Concrete is one of the most widely used building materials in the world and is ubiquitous in modern construction. It is used in a variety of applications, including residential and commercial buildings, bridges, roads, dams, and other infrastructure projects. In fact, concrete is the second most consumed substance on Earth, after water.

The widespread use of concrete is due to its durability, strength, and versatility. It can be moulded into various shapes and sizes, and can also be reinforced with steel to increase its strength. Additionally, concrete has a long lifespan and requires minimal maintenance, making it a cost-effective option for many construction projects.

Despite its advantages, concrete also has significant environmental impacts, as discussed earlier. As a result, there is growing interested in developing sustainable alternatives to traditional concrete like plastic, which can help mitigate its environmental impact while still meeting the demands of modern construction.

Plastic is Sustainable

According to Our World in Data, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) alone comprises 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, with a mass of 79,000 tonnes, which is approximately 29% of the 269,000 tonnes of plastic in the world’s surface oceans. Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly, and the world is producing twice as much plastic as two decades ago, according to a report by the OECD. However, the bulk of plastic waste ends up in landfills, incinerated, or leaking into the environment, with only 9% being successfully recycled. Therefore, it is difficult to estimate the exact amount of plastic that exists, but it is clear that plastic waste is a significant issue facing the planet today.

A form of pollution itself plastic is filled with hazardous chemicals that make recycling plastic products very difficult if not impossible. By using plastic in the creation of building materials Ms. Matee is removing plastic from our landfills and oceans while reducing the use of concrete. It really is a “two birds, one stone” situation. So how does the process work? The company has three machines, the extruder mixes plastic waste, with sand, at very high temperatures and then the press compresses it.

According to Nzambi Matee:

Plastic is fibrous in nature, therefore, the brick ends up having a stronger compression strength, we right now have a capacity of producing 1000 to 15000 bricks a day. So far we have recycled 20 metric tons, and we’re looking to push that value to 50 by the end of next financial year.” 


Plastic Can Solve the Housing Crisis

There is a real issue with the supply of housing in urban areas with high housing prices like Toronto and Sydney. Building new housing can take a long time, and without a plan to speed up the process would be house buyers in the millennial generation especially will be left out of the housing market.

Ms. Matee believes plastic bricks can provide shelter for all. 

“It is absurd that we still have this problem of providing decent shelter – a basic human need,” said Matee. “Plastic is a material that is misused and misunderstood. The potential is enormous, but Its afterlife can be disastrous.”

Plastic is still hazardous and can stay on the Earth for thousands of years in certain cases. Ha