‘Trash Has Value’: Black Woman Engineer Turns Plastic Into Bricks That Are Reportedly Stronger Than Concrete

Nzambi Matee, a 30-year-old who quit her job in oil and gas to work on her passion full-time, has created a lightweight and low-cost building material that is made of recycled plastic with sand to make bricks that are stronger than concrete material.

Every day her enterprise, Gjenge Makers, churns out 1,500 bricks made from industrial and household plastic that otherwise would be dumped in the city’s overflowing garbage heaps.

In 2021, the team recycled 50 tonnes of plastic but Matee has ambitions to double that amount this year as production expands.

“In Nairobi, we generate about 500 metric tonnes of plastic waste every single day, and only a fraction of that is recycled,” said Matee, who bounds with the energy around the factory floor in denim overalls and trainers.

“And that made me think — what happens to this plastic,” she told thenews.

According to the young entrepreneur, plastic has an “enormous” potential to work with it, but it is “misused and misunderstood.”

Matee was named a Young Champion of the Earth 2020 Africa winner at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with her initiative.

Research conducted by UNEP found that, globally, people purchase 1 million plastic drinking bottles every minute while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually.

“Through trial and error, she and her team learned that some plastics bind together better than others. Her project was given a boost when Matee won a scholarship to attend a social entrepreneurship training program in the United States of America.

“With her paver samples packed in her luggage, she used the material labs in the University of Colorado Boulder to further test and refine the ratios of sand to plastic,” explained on UNEP’s website.

The award “provides seed funding and mentorship to promising environmentalists as they tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.