Nzambi Matee is an entrepreneur from Kenya who is turning waste plastic into paving blocks through her company Gjenge Makers. “I’m using one problem to solve another problem” she says, tackling plastic pollution and affordable housing at the same time.
There’s a lot to like about this project, including the 112 jobs created in waste picking to source the scrap plastic. In many places that’s work for those at the bottom of the pile, done informally and at high risk, so anything that serves that community is welcome. The company has created an incentive for cleaning up plastic and is making something of value.
At the same time, the video mentions that Nairobi is creating 500 tonnes of plastic waste every single day. When the interview was conducted, Gjenge had recycled 20 metric tonnes of plastic. So this is a drop in the ocean – and that highlights an important point. No recycling scheme can be expected to handle the huge amounts of incoming plastic, either in Nairobi or anywhere else. Getting on top of the plastic crisis has to mean reducing usage in the first place, especially of the most wasteful single-use plastics and excess packaging.
Ultimately, it’s a bad idea to fill the world up with non-biodegradeable plastics, whether they’re floating on the oceans, snagged on fences or laid down as plastic driveways and patios. But until the taps are turned off and it stops entering the waste stream in such unmanageable quantities, what are communities supposed to do with the plastic? Turning it into bricks is a temporary fix, and pending a long term solution to plastic, there’s a role for these kinds of pioneering recyclers.