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Kenyan entrepreneur develops machine turning plastic waste into paving stones
A 26-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur developed a machine that recycles discarded plastic into paving stones for use in construction projects, thus contributing to the world’s efforts to cut plastic waste within the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Nzambi Matee’s invention not only keeps plastic out of landfill sites, it also offers a cheaper alternative to conventional concrete paving slabs.
For her work, Matee was recently named a Young Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The award provides seed funding and mentorship to promising environmentalists as they tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.
“We must rethink how we manufacture industrial products and deal with them at the end of their useful life,” said Soraya Smaoun, who specializes in industrial production techniques with UNEP. “Nzambi Matee’s innovation in the construction sector highlights the economic and environmental opportunities when we move from a linear economy, where products, once used, are discarded, to a circular one, where products and materials continue in the system for as long as possible.”
The world is awash in plastic. Globally, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually.
Matee, who majored in material science and worked as an engineer in Kenya’s oil industry, was inspired to launch her business Gjenge Makers after routinely coming across plastic bags strewn along Nairobi’s streets.
Each day, this business churns out 1,500 plastic pavers, which are prized by schools and homeowners because they are both durable and affordable. Gjenge Makers is also giving a second life to plastic bottles and other containers which would otherwise end up in landfills or, worse, on Nairobi’s streets.
“It is absurd that we still have this problem of providing decent shelter – a basic human need,” said Matee. “Plastic is a material that is misused and misunderstood. The potential is enormous, but its after life can be disastrous.”