Life
Kenyan woman invents way to turn plastic waste into bricks that can be used to build homes
Kenya has both environmental and housing crises, and this young inventor is tackling both problems at once.
D.G. Sciortino
06.21.22

With all the advanced technology in the world, you’d think there would have long been a solution to Earth’s plastic problem.

Thankfully, there are some that aren’t waiting around for governments and major corporations to come up with a solution.

People like inventor and engineer Nzambi Matee are taking matters into their own hands to find creative solutions to help sustain our environment.

The 30-year-old started a company that takes plastic trash that would otherwise end up in landfills and turns it into eco-friendly bricks that are stronger, lighter, and less expensive than concrete.

Matee’s company Gjenge Makers is based in Nairobi, Kenya where plastic waste has become a huge problem.

So much so that they had to ban plastic bags and ban all single-use plastic in protected natural areas. But that rule only applies to consumer waste. There are no regulations on commercial waste.

“In Nairobi, we generate about 500 metric tonnes of plastic waste every single day, and only a fraction of that is recycled,” said Matee, who quit her job in oil and gas to pursue Gjenge Makers. “And that made me think—what happens to this plastic?”

The problem was so bad that 50 percent of cattle in urban areas were found to have plastic in their stomachs.

“I was tired of being on the sidelines,” Matee told Reuters.

Now Gjenge Makers produces about 1,500 bricks per day. They are made from high and low polyethylene and polypropylene items like shampoo bottles, sandwich bags, and flip-top lids.

The plastic garbage is shredded then mixed with sand and heated at extreme temperatures.

This creates a sludge-like material that is molded and compressed into bricks.

“Our product is almost five to seven times stronger than concrete,” said Matee. “There is that waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get.”

This is because of plastic’s fibrous nature and unique production process that prevents air pockets from forming in the bricks.

This creates a stronger brick that won’t crack under heavy force or prolonged weather exposure like other bricks.

The bricks are then sold at different price points depending on their thickness and color.

Matee, who even built her own machines, says her factory recycled more than 50 tonnes of plastic waste in 2021.

She hopes to expand production to double her output.

Her bricks are already being used to line roads, driveways, and sidewalks in her city. She also sees a future for them as an alternative building material for low-cost housing and is looking to create a plastic prototype home soon.

“Plastic still has value,” Matee told PHYS ORG.

Most plastics do. But PET plastic, the kind used in plastic bottles, is currently unable to be made into bricks. But Matee says she hopes to change that.

“There is more that can be done, there is more that needs to be done. We are just a single drop in the ocean… small, small drops will make a big effect,” Matee said. “We want to be the leaders in alternative building products. Our first area of attack is plastic.”

Matee has created about 100 jobs as a result of her efforts. So she’s helping people provide a living while also helping the environment, instead of polluting it like she was at her old job.

“Let’s just say I sleep better,” she said.

Learn more in the video below.

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By D.G. Sciortino
hi@sbly.com
Dina is a contributing writer in Shareably. She's based in Connecticut and can be reached at hi@shareably.net.
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