Turning rubbish into innovation in West Africa

Background

In Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, there is a growing number of entrepreneurs who are turning rubbish into innovation by making paving tiles and building materials from plastic waste. 

Living Earth Foundation is an international NGO, based in London, which has been working to help support the growth of household waste recycling businesses in African cities through its Waste to Wealth programme

In 2013, Living Earth was introduced to Pierre Kamsouloum, a Cameroonian entrepreneur from the Northern region of Cameroon who was pioneering this technology. Pierre agreed to join forces with Living Earth and he has since travelled across Cameroon and to Nigeria and Sierra Leone, training over 100 entrepreneurs in this new technology.

What is it?

A paving stone or brick made in any desired shape that can be used for pavements, building bricks or other purposes.

How does it work?

Paving stones can be manufactured from waste plastics without requiring significant capital investment. The main component of the mixture can be made from plastic packaging (like bags and transparent films) and it is possible to mix other types of plastic waste in. The process is simple, melting the plastics down and mixing with sand. This mixture can then be moulded into any desired shape to produce paving tiles (such as for pavements).

Step-by-step process

  1. Collecting the plastic – In Sub-Saharan Africa, millions of plastic sachets, bags and bottles are improperly disposed everyday. Most of this waste comes in the form of water sachets; a safe and clean source of drinking water, which unfortunately has a negative environmental impact. With few options for recycling, and poor waste management services, these plastics end up on the streets, in rivers and streams, or being indiscriminately burnt in communities and school playing fields. Plastic paving relies on plastic as a source of materials, and enterprises either collect plastics themselves or buy them from middle-men who collect, clean and sell plastic by weight.
  2. Melting the mixture - Plastic is melted in a simple drum, often made from readily available oil drums, or thicker sheet metal that is specially welded together. It is vital that those involved in the melting process wear adequate safety equipment, including eye protection, breathing apparatus, gloves, overalls and safety boots. When all the plastic in the drum is melted into a thin liquid, it is ready to be mixed.
  3. Mixing - Sand is then added and mixed with specially created mixing poles, until a smooth consistency is formed. The mixture must be kept moving to avoid burning.
  4. Moulding - The mixture is then poured into metal moulds on a metal table, which are all greased with engine oil to prevent sticking. The mixture is compacted and smoothed using large trowels and a hand operated compactor, and the finished product is removed from the mould.
  5. Drying - Completed products are placed in the sun to dry for up to 24 hours, after which they are ready to be used.