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Kenya: Plastic Trash Used In Construction Materials

Kenya

Gilbert Ngonyo segregates plastic waste collected by the community that he will sell to Regeneration

Kenya is the home to fair numbers of sea turtles which are threatened by the tons of plastic trash and debris which washes into the sea.

But not if Sam Ngumba Ngaruiya succeeds.

Samuel quickly recognized the overwhelming litter problem in Kenya. Everywhere you look in areas where people live, there is rubbish by the sides of the street, around people’s homes, in school playgrounds, in bushes and trees, in rivers, in the sea and on the beaches.

He and his people gather up and recycle the ubiquitous plastic pollution into construction materials.

“Basically we are substituting plastic for cement,” explained Ngaruiya in an interview with Reuters. The US-trained engineer went on to explain that when the melted plastic cools, it absorbs and “squeezes” the sand, creating a compact and rather strong building material.

The idea is simple: pay locals to gather up plastic debris and pollution, and then repurpose it into useful construction materials (fence poles, roof tiles, road signs, flooring, containers, etc.).

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Ngaruiya’s firm, Regeneration Environmental Services Ltd, pays locals 10 shillings for 1 kilogram of plastic (~2 two-liter water bottles). Effectively, according to Ngaruiya, this means that in 4 or so hours, around 50 kilograms of plastic can be collected by those working on this — resulting in earnings of around 500 shillings ($4.86).

That’s roughly “enough to eat and feed their family for a day,” according to Ngaruiya. So, not a bad deal all things considered for those looking to make a living and also help clean up the local living environment.

Recycle, reuse

The gathered plastics are then separated into 8 different types, which are then machine-chopped into flakes around 1-cm in size. These plastic flakes are then rinsed and dried — following which, they are then combined with hardeners and sun-blockers, then heated to around the melting point (avoiding going much higher limits toxic fume creation). Into this heated mass, locally acquired gravel, sand, coconut fibers, sawdust, etc., is added — with the mixture then being poured into already created moulds of the products in question.

“These recycled plastic products can last 200 years,” he continued. So, in other words, arguably the greatest “negative” of plastics — their resistance to degradation and decay — becomes a positive owing to a change of context (construction materials), according to Ngaruiya.

Kenya at Friday

“In a bid to clean up Kai’s environment, the villagers of Watamu, who depend on fishing and tourism, joined hands in 2016 with an entrepreneur and a local ocean conservation charity to recycle plastic waste from two marine national parks in eastern Kenya … Villagers in Watamu, including school children, gather plastic waste from the sea, beaches and households every Friday, a holy day for the Muslim-majority community here.”

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To date (since work began in 2016), Ngaruiya’s company has recycled around 40–50 tonnes of plastic pollution gathered from nearby areas. With the firm’s recycling plant possessing a daily capacity of around 2 tonnes, there’s certainly still room for growth, but orders for the recycled materials being produced there have remained sparse — despite being “competitively priced,” according to Ngaruiya.

Something very interesting here is that there is no government support backing the work — or support from various agencies, banks, etc. Ngaruiya has put around $500,000 of his own money into the project.

He added that there needed to be many more facilities like his along the coast of Kenya to better deal with the problem.

Turtles threatened

The head of the local Watamu Turtle Watch conservation program, Casper Van De Geer, explained to Reuters that around 15% of the turtles brought in for rehabilitation every year were directly harmed by the ingestion of plastic.

He stated: “Close to half of them die of infection as pieces of hard plastic lodge into nooks and crannies inside the intestine, lacerating it and causing infection.”

Hopefully, attitudes and initiatives similar to Ngaruiya’s become more common over the coming years. If ecological collapse is to be avoided, then such a shift will be a necessity.

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