A young Kenyan Nzambi Matee mixes sand in her small factory in Nairobi with plastic fragments from milk packaging, shampoo and cereal bags, melts the resulting raw material at high temperatures and shapes it into bricks.
“We are tired (to do nothing). Plastic waste is not just a Kenyan problem, but a global one, and if we are not able to provide practical solutions, asking people to adopt a recycling culture can prove to be a real challenge “, explains for the Spanish news agency Matee, 29 years old, the founder of the Gjenge Makers company, which produces sustainable construction material with the help of plastic waste.
Since opening the business in 2017, Matee, an engineer by profession, and his team – currently made up of five fixed-term contract workers and five other permanent employees; with a production capacity of about 1,500 bricks per day – they managed to recycle about 20 tons of plastic waste. But in the city of Nairobi alone, it is estimated that about 500 tons of plastic waste are produced every day, EFE reports in a report, according to Agerpres.
Initially, Matee’s plan was to collect the plastic waste to sell to local recycling companies, but, finding himself in a much larger quantity of plastic than he could sell, he decided to try to transform this plastic. in bricks harder than cement.
“(Our bricks) are three or four times stronger than concrete because plastic, being a fibrous material, creates fewer air gaps,” explains Matee, a physics and geophysics graduate who specializes in materials science.
From her point of view, the ultimate goal is simple: to create a fertile space in which a circular economy around plastic can thrive, as is the case with other materials such as iron, whose waste is almost always reused.
“The metal circuit is much better established: we do not see waste because it is given a value. This is my wish and I would plead for any other material, be it plastic, food scraps, etc., to have a value.” she explains.
In December last year, Matee was recognized as one of seven Young Earth Champions 2020, a Nairobi-based UN Environment Program (UNEP) award that recognizes the work of organizations, scientists, activists or entrepreneurs – aged between 18 and 30 years old – with exceptional potential to create a positive impact on the environment.
“(These young people) show us that we can all contribute (to the eradication of environmental problems), no matter where we are and regardless of the means at our disposal,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
“Obviously, this award has generated more publicity and interest in our product, but most of all – both for me and my team – it has been a moral impetus. This force you feel when someone tells you “I see what you’re doing and I appreciate it. Keep it up!”, Explained Matee, whose team is currently working to cover a block of flats with 14,600 recycled bricks.
According to Greenpeace, only 9% of the plastic generated is recycled worldwide, and even in developed countries, the recycling rate of household waste does not reach 50%.
At the same time, despite the fact that Kenya is recognized worldwide for pioneering practices – the African country has adopted since 2017 the strictest law in the world against the production, sale and use of plastic bags, punishable by up to 4 years in prison or fines of $ 40,000, given that the average salary is about 300 euros – environmental organizations warn about the negative consequences that a possible agreement with the US, on the annual import of about 500 million tons of plastic waste , could cause it in this country.
“The (trade) agreement between the two countries must exclude any kind of imports of plastic waste into East Africa,” Fredrick Njeuh, political adviser to Greenpeace Africa, told EFE.
In line with other voices critical of the so-called “old normalcy” and in favor of a post-pandemic “green” economic recovery, Matee believes this is a good time to press the “pause button”. “The data show that during the pandemic, people returned to the essence: to take care of each other and to take care of the environment. It takes time, but this break and the change in mentality that COVID-19 caused would it could be the beginning of a more “environmentally conscious generation”, concludes the young woman who, from the industrial area of Nairobi, is building brick with brick – from recycled plastic – this change.
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