What started as a plastic collection company became an initiative to transform plastic waste into something useful, all through Kenyan engineer Nzambi Matee's vision.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 12, 2021. It has since been updated.
Nzambi Matee is the founder of Gjenge Makers, a startup based in Nairobi, Kenya's capital. Her business transforms plastic waste into bricks that are five to seven times stronger than concrete. In addition to establishing the company, Matee designed the machines that manufacture the bricks. She sources plastic in low and high-density polyethylene and polypropylene from local packaging plants for free to produce durable building materials. The materials she sources are waste that others cannot process anymore or recycle. Therefore, Matee prevents tonnes of plastic waste from ending up in landfills across the country. She hopes to expand her business to add a bigger manufacturing line, Good News Networking reports.
Matee said in an interview that she was "tired of being on the sidelines" while civil servants struggled with the mounting piles of plastic waste in Kenya. Hence, Gjenge Makers was born. Her company produces a variety of different paving stones after the plastic polymer is heated and mixed with sand. The polymer, which comes from a range of items such as milk and shampoo bottles, bags for cereals or sandwiches, and flip-top lids and buckets, is waste that can no longer be processed. She stated, "There is the waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get." Once Gjenge Makers completes their transformation process, they are able to output building materials pressed via hydraulic machine into different thicknesses. The materials, which come in a variety of colors, sell for an average of $7.70 per square meter.
At present, Gjenge Makers employs more than 110 people. These employees are able to churn out 1,500 bricks per day, and since the company was founded in 2018, they have been able to recycle about 20 metric tons of plastic waste. In the near future, Matee plans to expand her business to include a much bigger manufacturing line so as to triple her factory's production capacity. Gjenge Makers was initially envisioned to be a plastics collection company that would sort and sell plastic waste to other recycling companies. However, when the founder realized they had collected more waste faster than the recycling companies could uptake, Matee decided to pivot her business plan.
Now, Gjenge Makers has four objectives, as their website reveals: to solve the waste pollution problem by recycling and upcycling plastic, while providing alternative construction products that are beautiful, strong, and durable; to provide job opportunities for many skilled and unskilled youths in Kenya and Africa at large; to promote recycling and upcycling culture in Kenya and Africa; to promote and support the next generation of women entrepreneurs within the engineering space. The company takes up a variety of work, including industrial, commercial, and residential projects.