Kenyan woman recycles plastic waste into bricks stronger than concrete

Kenya uses 600,000 tons of plastic bottles annually, of which only 9 percent is recycled while the rest ends up in landfills and polluting the environment. A Nairobi-based, impact-driven entrepreneur is putting that plastic waste to much better use.

Meet Nzambi Matee, a 29-year-old entrepreneur and inventor who started a startup that transforms plastic waste into bricks that are more durable than concrete.

Called Gjenge Makers, the startup uses a prototype machine that can churn out 1,500 plastic pavers on a daily basis, with the paving stones not only touted for their environmental benefit, but also for their quality and for how affordable they are.

‘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 after-life can be disastrous.’

Matee gets the waste from packaging factories for free and she also buys it from other recyclers. After conducting a number of tests, she figured out which types of plastic bind better together and then created the machinery that can mass-produce the paving bricks, which are a combination of plastic and sand.

So far, Matee’s upcycling factory has converted more than 20 tons of plastic waste into paving bricks that come in an array of colors including red, blue, brown, and green. And on top of being incredibly durable — the bricks are able to hold twice the weight threshold of concrete blocks — the startup has also generated more than 110 jobs for local communities.