Nzambi Matee founded Gjenge Makers in Nairobi, Kenya in 2018, initially to sort and sell plastic waste to other recycling companies. Matee quickly realized that, because her enterprise was collecting waste faster than the recycling companies could use it, she needed to change business models, and fast. She pivoted directly to creating value-added products using the plastic instead, namely bricks that are stronger than concrete and whose manufacturing has less of an impact on the environment. She also designed the machines that manufacture the bricks.
Matee has said that she was “tired of being on the sidelines” as civil servants struggled with the mounting piles of plastic waste in Kenya. It is no longer possible to process or recycle the plastic that she uses, such as milk and shampoo bottles, cereal and sandwich bags, lids and buckets, so Gjenge makes the bricks by heating the plastic and mixing it with sand.
Matee’s hydraulic machine presses the output into different thicknesses. The materials, which come in a variety of colors, sell for an average of $7.70 per square meter.
Gjenge has recycled more than 20 tons of plastic so far. It manufactures 1,500 bricks per day, translating to a cleaner environment and job opportunities for youth. It has also had a significant social impact, creating 112 job opportunities for garbage collectors, women and youth groups.
Its objectives are to:
- “Solve the waste pollution problem by recycling and upcycling plastic, while providing alternative construction products which are beautiful, strong and durable
- Provide job opportunities for many skilled and unskilled youths in Kenya and Africa at large
- Promote recycling and upcycling culture in Kenya and Africa
- Promote and support the next generation of female entrepreneurs within the engineering space.”