Kevin Mwanje, 10, started picking up Kampala’s street plastic litter about two years ago for a living. This June, he found a buyer offering a better price.
“I have for long sold to plastic recycling plants that pay meager until I found a new buyer who even offered a part-time job and his plant … it was indeed a good thing for me,” he explains.
Mwanje’s new buyer is more Gerald Ndyasimye, the proprietor of Eco Ways Plastics, a local social enterprise that takes local waste and turns it into unique, functional furnishings—then sells it across the country in both urban and rural areas.
Through recycling, Eco Ways produces building materials, household deco and jobs.
About 1500 tons of waste are generated in Kampala every day and it is estimated that in urban areas, waste generation per capita stands at around one kilogram per day, of which, over 70 is organic and environmentally friendly.
However, plastics, which forms 98% of Kampala’s inorganic waste is chocking drainages leading to floods especially in the capital Kampala. This scales up malaria cases as a result of the stagnant water which provides a breeding ground for malaria-spreading mosquitoes.
Uganda has previously banned the use of single-use plastics but enforcement measures have not been affected. Littered plastic bottles are a common sight in the city and surrounding areas.
With each bottle Mwanje picks up, he earns a small amount of money after selling it to recycling plants in Kampala.
“Each kilogram is paid 3,000 UGX. All these bottles are here for recycling. We turn them into building materials.” Says Gerald Ndyasimye, the Founder of ECO WAYS Plastics.
Plastic pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental concerns in Uganda due to the increase of single-use plastics and poor disposal habits.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics report 2021, Uganda generates an average of 729,755 tons of waste annually, the plastics taking 75.5 of the waste.
The Kampala Waste Management report 2020 indicates a collection efficiency of 30% implying that most of the waste is not safely recycled and goes into the environment.
Besides organic waste, which is so bulky, plastic waste takes a second position compared to other solid waste.
Filling the missing void
Eco Ways believes that the provision of building materials would ease the cost of construction and reduce Uganda’s housing gap
“We make roofing tiles. It is made out of one hundred percent recycled plastic waste and construction waste. Each tile is made of over 70 plastic bottles.” Says Franc Kamugyisha, the Founder of Ecoplastile.
He further explains that this plastic-made roofing tile is two times larger than the conversion roofing tiles on the market.
“It is lighter and does not support the growth of mold. And because it is also larger, it saves on timber consumption, thus saving 35% of costs for construction for Ugandans.”
The tiles are made in different colors according to the customer’s needs. That is to say, Orange, Brick red, Earth brown, charcoal black, and forest green among others.
“They are strong, thus not breaking. This makes transportation to the construction site easy. In addition, a typical 3-bedroom house will consume at least 1.5 tons of plastics.”
Besides roofing tiles, other building materials made include fence poles and wall tiles which are stronger than any other on the market according Richard Mugisha, a housing construction engineer, explains the advantages of using them.
“We have tested these products, especially the face poles are so much better than the usual poles we are used to. They can not be attacked by termites and water doesn’t affect them. They are durable and light.”
“The plastic wall tiles are more than twice as strong as conventional ceramic alternatives and they are more than 14 times stronger than concrete pavers.”
Here the stench and sweat does not only chant money but also give hope to those employed.
“I work here as a sorter of plastic waste. I have been able to take care of my family and pay school fees for my children. I hope to build a house in time to come.” Says Hafisha Nagere an employee at Ecoways Uganda, a plastic recycling plant.
Moving forward, these social enterprises intend to capture three problems using plastic waste.
“We have a dream of recycling 1 million metric tonnes of plastic waste from the environment, creating more jobs for marginalized communities, and creating a sustainable housing structure.
However, the system needs more support from the government.
“As recycling hubs, we lack government support. That is to say, sometimes our collectors are harassed by officials as they try to gather plastic waste. As well, sorting organic from plastic waste is still a problem.” Says Ndishimye.
According to Jude Zziwa, a solid management officer at the Kampala City Authority, a structure is in place to support plastic recycling plants.
“As KCCA, we have tried our level best to support plastic recycling plants through different initiatives. We have distributed dust bins at markets like Usafi, Owino, to enable the isolation of plastics from other wastes. We also call upon producers of different products to take the initiative of recycling their packages.”
Ndashimye’s next step is to find a way to stop plastics from flowing into Lake Victoria as well as making a difference in the construction industry.
“ In the future, we target to set up nets on all the major drainage channels to trap litter before it reaches any water source. In addition, we want to make more construction materials and make construction cheap for Ugandans.” He concludes