Kenyan woman morphs plastics waste into material stronger than concrete

UN award winner innovates recycling process that creates bricks with amazing strength
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A Kenyan materials engineer has created an ingenious process that addresses burgeoning plastic waste and transforms it into an exceptionally strong building material, Reuters Nairobi reported. 

This innovation is especially vital in light of the UN Environment Programme’s findings that most of the million plastic bottles used every minute globally will not be recycled. 

Photo: Courtesy of Gjenge Makers Ltd

Yahoo News reported that Nzambi Matee’s process uses materials that other recycling facilities cannot recycle. Low-density polyethylene is mixed with polypropylene, heated and formed into bricks. The bricks created through this ground-breaking process are cheaper, lighter and five to seven times stronger than concrete.

Although low-density polyethylenes (LDPE) are extensively used in our daily life as food wrappers, squeezable bottles and single-use bags, experts in the field, Miller Recycling, said they are not widely recycled.

Plastic bags, like grocery bags, made from LDPE tend to get entangled in recycling machinery, increasing equipment repair and labour costs. The former, coupled with wasted time, makes recycling of this type of plastic laborious, financially taxing, and an unattractive venture overall. 

Workers at Gjenge Makers Ltd. Photo: Courtesy of Gjenge Makers Ltd

While marketing campaigns position all plastics as recyclable to put people’s consciences at ease, the truth is that being recyclable doesn’t necessarily mean that an item will indeed be recycled. 

Politico reported that low-density polyethylenes are not desirable to manufacturers concerned about product quality because of their high toxicity and carcinogenic characteristics. 

The 2020 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) winner of the Young Champions of the Earth Award was motivated to join the fight against waste reduction because she was “tired of being on the sidelines.” 

Gjenge Makers Ltd group photo. Photo: Courtesy of Gjenge Makers Ltd

Matee’s factory, Gjenge Makers Ltd., was established in 2017 and has recycled 20 tonnes of plastic by mixing sand with plastic waste. The venture gets most of its materials for free from packaging companies and produces approximately 1,500 bricks per day.

Although the overwhelming majority of LDPE products end up in landfills or oceans, Nzambi Matee’s invention diverts some of that waste while simultaneously offering a cost-effective and durable alternative to concrete.

 

Wiki Production Code: A0605

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