Nzambi Matee from Nairobi founded Gjenge Makers that currently manufactures 1,500 bricks made from a mixture of plastic waste.
When plastic was created in the 19th century, little did anyone know the extent to which it would become an integral part of our daily lives? A material that was basically indestructible was used to make temporary, one-time-use articles like cups, plates, straws, carry bags. However, the use of plastic waste has been increasing by the day and causing a great amount of pollution on land and water. Many policy changes have been made in an attempt to reduce the usage of plastic and its ultimate journey to landfills. Heaps and heaps of waste have now started to accumulate and form hills on landfills.
Nzambi Matee from Kenya is among the 2020 Young Champions of the Earth winners announced today by @UNEP.— UN Climate Change (@UNFCCC) December 15, 2020
The 29-year-old inventor and entrepreneur is helping build a greener Nairobi by turning plastic waste into building blocks: https://t.co/2Lh6yO53ci #YoungChamps #ForNature pic.twitter.com/AZjCsgE06t
Growing tired of the plastic waste that was accumulating in her city, Nzambi Matee decided to stop waiting by the sidelines and take matters into her own hands. To tackle the growing plastic problem in the Kenyan city of Nairobi, Matee went back to the basics and decided to recycle plastic. But instead of making more products that become disposable after a few uses, she decided to transform plastic waste into durable building materials. For this, she founded the company Gjenge Makers, which make really sturdy bricks. "Our product is almost five to seven times stronger than concrete," Matee told Reuters.
The United Nations Environment Programme (@UNEP) recently unveiled the results of the 2020 edition of its Young Earth Champions initiative. @nzambimatee_ke, the founder of @gjenge_makers was one of the seven winners. #afrik21 #kenya #recyclinghttps://t.co/ZbDOtqqglR pic.twitter.com/xqmebhiPxt— Afrik21 (@afrik21) December 16, 2020
Explaining the process of making the bricks, Matee said her company uses plastic waste that cannot be processed or recycled anymore. The company gets the raw material for free from packaging factories. She does, however, pay for the plastic she gets from other recyclers. These plastic materials include high-density polyethylene used in milk and shampoo bottles, low-density polyethylene often used for bags for cereals or sandwiches, as well as polypropylene, used for ropes, flip-top lids, and buckets. The plastic waste is then mixed with sand and heated. It is then compressed into bricks. The company manages to make 1,500 bricks made from a mixture of all these plastic materials.
The company makes three types of bricks, Heavy Duty, Moderate Duty, and Light Duty Pavers. The bricks are sold at varying prices depending on the type of brick and color. Their common grey bricks cost 850 Kenyan shillings or $7.70 per square meter. This is on par with how much bricks cost in America as well. A normal clay brick would probably crumble to pieces if dropped to the ground with force, but not the bricks made by Matee's Gjenge Makers. She even demonstrated the durability and sturdiness of the bricks to Reuters, by throwing them against the sidewalk. The brick remained unaffected.
Yeah it's official we are on the final lap of this project.... increasing the number now almost 3.5metric tonnes of plastic waste recycled#recycling #KaziMtaani #youngchamp @HousingUrbanKE @PSCharlesHinga @YouthFund_Ke @NYC_YouthVoice @Water_Unite pic.twitter.com/ShmO7xYrQf— Gjenge Makers Ltd (@gjenge_makers) December 7, 2020
Matee designed the machine to make the bricks herself, thanks to her degree as a materials engineer. So far, her factory has managed to recycle 20 tonnes of waste plastic since it was founded in 2018. She has even employed more than 110 people at the factory, according to Good News Network. Even though the company was founded initially to collect, sort, and sell plastic waste to other recycling companies, they ended up collecting more waste than recycling companies could turn out. The website of the company states: This original idea was pivoted, and a decision was made to do value addition to these plastics hence the decision to manufacture alternative building products emerged.
As for her future plans, Matee hopes to be able to add a bigger manufacturing line that will triple her production capacity.
This year we have been fortunate enough to have done great things.— Gjenge Makers Ltd (@gjenge_makers) December 30, 2020
We have recycled approximately 20 METRIC TONES of plastic waste.
We won the YOUNG CHAMPIONS OF THE EARTH AWARD from @UNEP.
We say THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT.@YouthFund_Ke @PSCharlesHinga pic.twitter.com/Yrn6PfIgbF