Nzambi Matee, a 29-year-old Kenyan mechanical engineer and environmentalist, is making waves in the world of waste management and sustainability. With her innovative approach, Matee has found a way to convert plastic waste into sustainable materials that are stronger and longer-lasting than traditional building materials.
Matee’s journey began after completing her studies in physics and material engineering. She worked in the oil industry and as a data analyst before leaving her job in 2017 to fully focus on sustainability and waste management. She set up a small workstation in her mother’s backyard and began experimenting with different ratios of plastic and sand to create pavers.
In 2019, Matee developed her own machine to produce plastic bricks on a large scale, despite facing backlash from her neighbors due to the noise. She was also awarded a scholarship to a social entrepreneurship training program in the United States, where she worked tirelessly to improve her innovation.
After the program, Matee founded her startup company, Gjenge Makers, where she recycles plastic waste into bricks and paving stones. The company produces between 500 to 1000 bricks per day, recycling close to 500 kilograms of plastic waste a day.
To make bricks, Matee sources plastic waste from packaging factories or local recyclers, mixes it with sand, and uses high temperatures and a press to compress it. The resulting bricks, which are fully certified by the Kenyan Bureau of Standards, have a melting point of over 350°C and are much stronger than their concrete equivalents.
Matee’s hard work and dedication to her cause have not gone unnoticed. In 2020, she was named the Young Champion of the Earth 2020 Africa winner at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for her innovative approach to waste management.
“It is absurd that we still have this problem of providing decent shelter – a basic human need. Plastic is a material that is misused and misunderstood. The potential is enormous, but its after life can be disastrous,” Matee said. With her dedication and innovative approach, Matee is leading the way in finding sustainable solutions to the global problem of plastic waste.