Paving the way: Kenyan recycles plastic into bricks

Nzambi Matee is pretty proud of how tough her bricks are, and the secret, the Kenyan entrepreneur says, is that they are not made of concrete, but recycled plastic.

"Hi my name is Nzambi, Nzambi Matee, founder of Gjenge Makers Limited. Here in Gjenge, we make alternative building products and our first product line are pavers. Our product is almost five to seven times stronger than the concrete and this is because of the basic material structure of the brick itself. Our pavers, because they are made out of recycled plastic; and plastic is polymerous in nature, or rather it’s thread-like so, therefore, it doesn’t have a lot of pocket holes, therefore, making it less brittle, compared to concrete. So, that’s why it doesn’t break very easily.”

Her factory in the capital Nairobi produces 1,500 pavers a day out of waste plastic - some of which she gets for free from packaging factories.

Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Forestry says Kenya produces 600,000 tons of plastic bottles annually - of which 400,000 tons are used locally and only 9% is recycled.

Matee said she didn't want to wait on the government to solve the problem.

"I was tired of being the side-lines… you are just there waiting for someone to sort the plastic issue. You are just waiting for the government or the municipality, or just someone else other than yourself. So, that was the first driver and then the other thing was, it was almost out of sheer curiosity to see, can this happen? Because, I had seen it happening in different parts of the world and I knew it could be replicated here in Kenya.”

The materials engineer said she was also curious about the challenge.

Having worked out how to make one brick, she then designed the machines so they could be mass produced.

“We knew how to make one brick so, we needed to know if we are to bring this product to the market, we needed to know how to make a thousand or five thousand, because one project cannot be just one brick. So, after figuring out how to make one brick, now, the next step was how to make a thousand and making a thousand, we needed machines.”

Matee, who founded Gjenge Makers in 2017, is now eyeing expansion - hoping to produce up to 4,500 bricks a day and in doing so recycle up to 60 tons of plastic a year.

She says they expect to be breaking even by the end of this year

and she's confident the business is on the path to success.

“It’s affordable because we are in Kenya and Kenya, in the larger part of Africa being a mass market you have to be not only sustainable but affordable and hence the triple threat; stronger, lighter, and affordable."