NAIROBI, KENYA—Little is wasted in Kenya. The plastic containers used to sell cooking oil are reused as containers for carrying water. In fact you find these “jerrycans” for sale in some parts of Nairobi for 0.40 to 2.00 USD. There are three such containers in my house. When so much is reused, it is surprising when, at the same time, so much is wasted.
Dandora is the largest dumpsite in Nairobi (see above). The dumpsite officially employs about 10 people and unofficially around 3,000, the manager told me. The 3,000 unofficial workers are scavengers who dig through the landfill to remove the valuable items such as glass, plastic, shoe soles, wood and metal. That which does not have a market value is left in the landfill. Mostly organic waste and plastic bags.
The plastic bags often don’t even reach the dumpsite and instead are scattered on the ground all around town. A group of Kenyans decided something had to be done and started an organization that turns the least desirable part of the waste into plastic posts for lumber. The organization is called Green Africa and is located just past the airport on Mombasa Road in Nairobi. They were more than happy to give us a tour of their facility and even to tell us the cost of the equipment and the buying price of the raw material. Above are rejected wrappers from candy companies.
In the above machine, plastic bags are melted into dense nuggets for post processing. Any plastic can be used: PET (from soda bottles), high density plastic (from milk bottles), plastic bags (clean or dirty, though clean are preferred as this reduces wear and tear on the equipment) and even paper with a plasticized covering can be used (the paper will burn away).
The post making machine heats the plastic nuggets and extrudes the material through a tube of choice (square or round, large or small). Then the foreman removes the tube and dunks it in cold water to make the plastic contract, facilitating removal from the tube. The process is quite labor intensive taking about 20 minutes per post produced. This machine is a used machine from China which costs $25,000 to $40,000. I have seen the nugget making machines at other plastic collection facilities that were made by the local craftsman of Nairobi, the jua kali, but these were constantly breaking down. The current machine makes solid posts but Green Africa hopes to buy a machine that can make hollow posts which will reduce the materials needed but still have the same strength.
Jeremiah stands next to a pile of the final product. Green Africa says they have a hard time keeping up with demand even though the plastic posts sell for three times as much as wood posts at between $7 to $12 per ten foot length, depending on diameter. Green Africa gives the posts a lifetime warranty. In truth, these posts will be around long after the roof caves in and the termites eat through your kitchen table.
This is the kind of place I would have visited just for kicks, but this time there were some business opportunities to explore as well.
Jeremiah is the co-founder of an NGO in Mai Mahiu, Kenya called Comfort the Children International. The organization has built a strong relationship with the community and recently started a once a month environmental cleanup day and around 300 people join the fun. You see, in Mai Mahiu, there is no waste collection system or dumpsite. Residents dump their waste in the empty plot next door, creating an eye sore for the town and an environmental tragedy. The clean up days are for planting trees (Mai Mahiu has lost most of its tree cover in the last 25 years) and for picking up trash. But since there is no where to put the trash, they must burn it. Jeremiah was looking for a new solution.
We thought we could sell the waste as raw materials and help the unemployed youth earn some money. But there is not a lot of money in scavenging. We let our imaginations run wild and thought of turning the organic waste into compost and the plastic waste into posts. CTC International can organize the youth and I have learned a lot about effective waste collection strategies in Africa that I would love to try out. The plastic posts might help to slow the deforestation rate as well.
There is even a company (Tujenge Eco Solutions) based in Kenya that produces equipment for turning plastic waste into lumber. All of their machines are exported as there is not much market for them in Kenya. This machine processes 180 kg/hr and costs $274,000! I think we will have to implement the collection strategy first before investing in the extruder.
Here are the posts the machine makes.
As we progress I will be sure to keep you posted! 😉