Enterprising Kenyan Engineer Finds An Innovative Solution To Use Plastic Waste


CCSS NAS-5 425 Words 3-Minute Listen
Nzambi Matee's bricks are made using plastic that cannot be recycled (Credit: Gjenge Makers)

The East African country of Kenya has been at the forefront of the global war on plastic since 2017, when officials outlawed plastic bags. In June 2020, the government upped the ante with a ban on single-use plastics in protected areas. Unfortunately, the preemptive measures have barely made a dent. Hundreds of tons of industrial and consumer polymer waste continue to get dumped into landfills daily. However, if 29-year-old Nzambi Matee has her way, the unsightly plastic heaps will soon be transformed into colorful bricks.

The materials engineer's quest to find a feasible solution to curb plastic pollution began in 2017. She quit her job as a data analyst at a local chemical factory and set up a small lab in her mother's backyard. It took her nine months to produce the first brick and even longer to convince a partner to help build the machinery to make them. But the determined eco-entrepreneur was confident in her idea and did not give up.

She says, “I wanted to use my education in applied physics and materials engineering to do something about the problem of plastic waste pollution. But I was very clear that the solution had to be practical, sustainable, and affordable. The best way to do this was by channeling the waste into the construction/building space and finding the most efficient and affordable material to build homes."

Gjenge Makers' colorful plastic bricks can be used to pave industrial and domestic surfaces (Credit: Gjenge Makers)

Her company, Gjenge Makers, now hires 112 people and produces over 1,500 bricks a day. The pavers are made using a mix of plastic products — ranging from empty shampoo bottles to buckets to flip-flops — that cannot be reprocessed or recycled. The polymer is obtained directly from factories or picked by hired locals from Nairobi's largest landfill, Dandora.

The collected plastic is mixed with sand, heated at very high temperatures, and compressed into bricks that vary in color and thickness. The resulting product is stronger, lighter, and about 30 percent cheaper than concrete bricks. More importantly, it helps repurpose the lowest quality of plastic. “There is that waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get," Matee says.

Gjenge Makers' bricks are more durable and cheaper than conventional concrete bricks (Credit: Gjenge Makers)

Matee, who was recently recognized as one of the Young Champions of the Earth 2020 — the United Nations’ highest environmental honor — is far from done. Her dream is to reduce the mountain of trash in Dandora to just a hill by increasing production and expanding her offerings. She says, "The more we recycle the plastic, the more we produce affordable housing. . .the more we created more employment for the youth."

Resources: Architecturaldigest.com, CNN.com, ecowatch.com

Get the Workbook for this article!

Workbook contains: Article, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking Questions, Vocabulary in Context (+ answers), Multiple Choice Quiz (+ answers), Parts of Speech Quiz (+ answers), Vocabulary Game (+ answers)
Cite Article
  • cabingirl10
    cabingirl10Monday, August 2, 2021 at 8:40 am
    This is so cool! This helps the earth and she put herself out there, you go girl!! And everyone else who is helping the environment!
    • dchukwuemeka16
      dchukwuemeka16Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at 5:38 am
      where is Nigeria in Africa u can search it up and wow 0_0
      • dani1409
        dani1409Saturday, July 24, 2021 at 5:34 pm
        awesome, awesome, awesome!!! :-)
        • xnestorio
          xnestorioSunday, July 18, 2021 at 10:52 am
          So colorfull!😱
          • xnestorio
            xnestorioSunday, July 18, 2021 at 10:51 am
            • chesstiger65
              chesstiger65Monday, July 19, 2021 at 9:17 am
              Me too!
            • moth
              mothSunday, July 18, 2021 at 1:18 am
              This is amazing. I had a book about people saving the environment, why is she not there!
              • loveall
                loveallSaturday, July 10, 2021 at 11:10 am
                Plastic waste is horrible. I am so glad that someone is doing something about it!👍
                • midnight_pink2
                  midnight_pink2Monday, July 5, 2021 at 6:09 pm
                  Human waste makes me mad!💢 #savetheearth✨🤘💖💗
                  • blondie1218
                    blondie1218Monday, July 26, 2021 at 7:09 am
                    Human waste makes me mad to! #savetheearth✨ I am with you bubbly_girl12!!!!!
                  • midnight_pink2
                    midnight_pink2Monday, July 5, 2021 at 6:07 pm
                    Wow! Brick houses could be like a hot trend!
                    • harehair598
                      harehair598Monday, July 5, 2021 at 4:34 pm
                      Wow! Turning plastic into bricks is so amazing!!