Plastic waste is killing us. Could it make money for us instead?

Kenyan recycles plastic waste into bricks stronger than concrete

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Nzambi Matee hurls a brick hard against a school footpath constructed from bricks made of recycled plastic that her factory turns out in the Kenyan capital.

It makes a loud bang, but does not crack.

“Our product is almost five to seven times stronger than concrete,” said Matee, the founder of Nairobi-based Gjenge Makers, which transforms plastic waste into durable building materials.

“There is that waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get,” Matee said, strolling past sacks of plastic waste.

Matee gets the waste from packaging factories for free, although she pays for the plastic she gets from other recyclers.

Her factory produces 1,500 bricks each day, made from a mix of different kinds of plastic.

These are high density polyethylene, used in milk and shampoo bottles; low density polyethylene, often used for bags for cereals or sandwiches; and polypropylene, used for ropes, flip-top lids and buckets.

But she does not work with polyethylene terephthalate or PET, commonly used for plastic bottles.

The plastic waste is mixed with sand, heated and then compressed into bricks, which are sold at varying prices, depending on thickness and colour. Their common grey bricks cost 850 Kenyan shillings ($7.70) per square metre, for example.

Matee, a materials engineer who designed her own machines, said her factory has recycled 20 tonnes of waste plastic since its founding in 2017.

She plans to add another, bigger, production line that could triple capacity, and hopes to break even by year end.

Matee set up her factory after she ran out of patience waiting for the government to solve the problem of plastic pollution.

“I was tired of being on the sidelines,” she said.


  • I read the article, which leaves me with a couple of questions. How large is her factory (square feet)? And could her factory be replicated in the FSM, Palau, and the Marshalls? The article says she designed her own machinery. Can that be replicated elsewhere.

    No doubt it would be nice to turn plastic that normally winds up in landfills into bricks to build homes and other buildings. Worth further examination!
  • Another challenge might be gathering enough waste plastic to make the business viable.

    Kenya, with a population of 52 million, is a much larger country than FSM, and undoubtedly uses more plastic.

    I'd like to see an NGO - like the Micronesian Conservation Coalition - find grant funding to do a feasibility study...perhaps on the more heavily-populated island of Guam.
  • Makes sense. Maybe you could send the article to the PDN, and to the MCC, and share your thoughts? Getting the idea out to the public would be a great start.
  • I've sent the article to the Micronesian Conservation Coalition on Guam and to the Micronesia Conservation Trust on Pohnpei.
  • Not a bad idea.Although I support these kind of solutions.There's just way too much plastic in this world.Much so they've become microscopic.I'd rather see them all eradicated by any means.
  • If our EPAs can come up with a scheme to clean all outer islands' shores by collecting this debris, we can have mountains of the material for years long.
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