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Meet the woman who turns Kenya’s plastic waste problem into a construction solution: plastic bricks


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Get the latest report inEye on the groundCBS News correspondent Deborah Bata went to Kenya to learn about an innovative approach to tackling the scourge of plastic pollution.

Nairobi It floats in the middle of the world’s largest ocean A large patch of litter in the Pacific Ocean A man-made plastic waste mess covering twice the area of ​​Texas. Kenya is one of the many countries contributing to pollution.

Hundreds of tons of plastic waste is generated every day in the capital, Nairobi alone. On the outskirts of the sprawling city is the Dandora landfill – about 30 acres, or 22 soccer fields, of trash. Despite a groundbreaking ban on single-use plastics in 2017, Kenya is still being flooded.

Climate Waste Growing in Kenya
A woman selling roasted corn for lunch to people looking for rubbish to make a living walks down a path between garbage hills at a landfill in Dandora, in the suburbs of Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2018 file photo.

Ben Curtis / AP

But while most people look at Dandora and see an insurmountable plastic mountain, Bata meets a young woman who finds innovative ways to tackle the problem and move that mountain.

There are days in Kenya when you can actually walk on water. Bata saw one river so choked with plastic that it formed an unsinkable foundation. It’s an annoying health hazard for everyone who lives there, but not for a mate.

“I feel excited when I see trash, because I know this is life for us,” materials scientist told Bata.

The fact that plastic does not sink is exactly what sparked Matte’s interest.

Nairobi-Kenya-Garbage-Pata.  jpg
A river in Nairobi, Kenya, is clogged with plastic and other waste.

CBS / Deborah Bata

“I came across the concept of using plastic in [make] She explained the “building blocks”.

Tons of plastic plugs pour in, polluting rivers and animal feed in the area, some of which end up in the Dandora landfill. The site has reached its capacity and was supposed to be closed 20 years ago.

But every day the trash collectors wander around in the rotten rubbish sifting through the plastic. It wasn’t easy for Matte to see if she could really turn waste into usable building blocks.

When she finally succeeded, “It was the best day ever,” Labata said. “It only took us about nine months to make one brick.”

One brick wasn’t enough, but that wasn’t a problem for the woman who likes to get dirty hands. After that, she built a machine for mass production of plastic bricks.

Plastic Bricks - Kenya.  jpg
Material scientist Nzambi Matti holds a plastic brick she made from waste collected at a landfill in Nairobi, Kenya.

CBS / Deborah Bata

First the waste is sorted to remove aggregates and metals, then the plastic is baked – just like “making a biscuit,” as Matti joked – before the boiling mixture is molded into the building blocks. Preparing them can yield up to 2,000 per day, is 35% cheaper than standard bricks, and is up to seven times stronger.

Currently, matte stones are only used for paths in small homes, but she wants to target major builders.

Kenya’s fight against plastic pollution is not just a local issue. The matter is complicated by the fact that, two years ago, the United States exported more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries, including Kenya. Now Washington wants to make shipping more plastic waste a condition of a proposed trade deal.

Greenpeace activist Amos Weymania believes Kenya can barely manage its own waste, let alone recycle American waste.

He told CBS News: “It will be more problematic to import if we allow this trade deal between the United States and Kenya to be used as a means of dumping plastic waste on the African continent.”

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Matti agrees that countries should keep their waste in their backyards, as they intend to implement what she describes as a triple threat:

“The more we recycle the plastic, the more we produce affordable housing … the more jobs we create for young people,” she said.

Like many young Kenyans, Matti is passionate about protecting the environment, but it’s not just words. She hopes that by her actions the mountain in Dandora will become just a hill.


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