How much waste does the world generate? The World Bank estimates approximately 2 billion metric tons are generated annually. This is expected to exceed 3.4 billion tons by 2050. Even pre-COVID-19, the world found itself in a spot of trouble when China implemented its waste ban (China “Reconsiders” Foreign Waste- Is There Hope For Global Recycling Markets?), and other Asian countries fought back against the export of waste (Do You Know Where Your Waste Actually Ends Up?).
As the world becomes more aware of the impacts of negligent practices in waste management, some individuals have found innovative ways to manage and recycle waste in their respective countries. We take a look at a few interesting “eco-preneurs”.
Kenya | Plastic waste to plastic bricks
Kenyan materials engineer, Nzambi Matee, sought to help alleviate the growing plastic waste problem. In Nairobi, around 500 metric tons of plastic waste is generated daily. This is expected to increase by another 500 tons largely due to the new free-trade deal between Kenya and the USA.
Her solution? A lightweight and low-cost brick made of recycled plastic and sand. These plastics are high density polyethylene (e.g. milk and shampoo) and low density polyethylene (e.g. bags for cereals) and polypropylene (e.g. buckets). The plastic waste is mixed with sand, heated and then compressed into bricks.
Matee’s company, Gjenge Makers has recycled over 20 metric tons of plastic waste from 2017 to date, producing 1500 bricks a day, that are used to build walls, pave driveways, and pretty much most construction work.
This sustainable solution has not only endeavoured to reduce waste at landfills, but has also generated 112 job opportunities for garbage collectors, women and youth groups.
Nigeria | Turning waste into playground equipment
Jumoke Olowokere was determined to find alternative uses for the mounting volumes of trash, that threatened increasing waste collection costs in Nigeria. Olowokere began to sort through waste, extracting material that could be reused or recycled.
Over 5 years later, she now runs a business called Africa Creativity and Sustainability Hub, manufacturing various items such as ottomans, sinks, and other ornaments from old tyres. When COVID-19 hit, Nigerians struggled to keep up with handwashing regulations. Olowokere made eight hand-washing basins, which she stacked on old tyres, and installed them in different areas of the city.
In 2019, Olowokere, launched the Perceptions Project 40 (PP40), donating playground equipment made from discarded tyres and ropes to 40 schools in the state of Oyo-a region recording the highest number of out-of-school children due to dilapidated buildings and little to no resources. The PP40 project aims to entice children to attend school, and has benefited over 20,000 learners thus far.
South Africa | Repurposed school bags
Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane are two entrepreneurs who decided to change the way hundreds of disadvantaged students in South Africa carry their books to school- in plastic bags. They saw an opportunity to use those same plastic bags, amongst other plastic waste littering their communities, and repurpose it into durable and environmentally friendly school bags.
In addition, the duo sought to solve the problem of the students studying by candlelight, and fitted solar panels into the bags. As the students walk to and from school, the solar panels charge up, and are used as lamps at night.
These eco-preneurs have showcased the benefits of localised recycling initiatives: decreasing waste volumes and costs; environmental conservation; and societal development- profit, plant and people. There is far more value in adopting a circular model of recycling waste, as opposed to merely exporting or disposing of waste, where seepages into the environment have resulted in devastating impacts on both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Through the Zero Waste Foundation, Don’t Waste aims to promote the circular economy model, and works with public and private sectors to promote sustainable practices by supporting alternatives to landfill (thereby reducing waste), organize, and facilitate clean-up initiatives, and promote public recycling. We are treatment agnostic and are always researching new alternatives to landfill.
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