According to the United Nations, a million plastic drinks bottles are bought every minute globally. Of the plastic packaging used globally, nearly a third of it escapes waste collection and management systems. These plastics enter water supplies and the food chain where they could harm people in the long term.
Additionally, at least eight million tonnes of plastic leak into the oceans each year, destroying reefs and threatening marine life. In Kenya, there is a ban on single-use plastic packaging, a ban on the use of disposable plastic bottles in public spaces like parks and a movement to ban plastic packaging altogether. However, bans are hardly enough.
Kenya produces more than three million tonnes of waste per year. Of this, only eight percent is recycled. The Nairobi County Government admitted that they don't have the capacity to handle the 1700 tonnes of waste produced daily. Hope Wakio Mwanake, a 30-year old environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, felt something needed to be done. Hope ran a waste collection service in Gilgil, Kenya. In her role, she saw first hand the amount of waste discarded by homes, institutions, and businesses.
Hope and business partner Kevin Mureithi, also an environmental scientist, came up with "Eco Blocks and Tiles" in 2016, the first company in Kenya to manufacture roof tiles and other construction materials from plastic and glass waste. While their cost is similar to that of concrete or clay tiles, Eco Tiles are more durable, lighter, easier to transport and install, and safer for rainwater collection. This has made the tiles gain popularity with customers and even the Kenyan government which is promoting the use of sustainable and greener materials.
"We were just dumping all the plastic in the landfill. It didn't make sense. We knew there had to be a better way," Hope told AlJazeera. "We wanted to do something with all this plastic waste, and after a lot of brainstorming, research and experimenting, we came up with a value-added product with market demand that would also help to reduce all this plastic in the environment."
With crowdfunding and grants from organizations such as United Kingdom packaging firm Mondi and Netherlands-based VIA Water, the pair began commercial production of the eco tiles began in 2018. Each tile is priced at KSH850 ($8.50). They have turned more than 56 tonnes of plastic waste into 75,000 tiles for 30 homes and businesses so far. The company employs four permanent staff and supports community garbage collectors by purchasing the waste they collect.