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Innovation: Turning plastic waste into PLASTIC PAVERS

INTRODUCTION

As a member of Avrateq (a visualization brand being natured by 8M), I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time with a phenomenal team of engineers under the leadership of by Eng. Hans JB Mwesigwa who are constantly thinking about the next innovative approach to solving our shared challenges using locally available resources/materials. Being in such an environment has partly influenced the proactive approach to contribute towards a more sustainable environment and gender inclusive construction industry in Uganda with the project, Grass Pavers UG.

Grass pavers UG is a female led project whose goal is contributing towards a more sustainable environment and gender inclusive construction industry in Uganda. It attempts to solve the plastic pollution problem in local communities by developing a replicable and affordable eco-friendly hardscaping material from recycled plastic waste. The project plans to employ women at all stages of operation.

THE PLASTIC WASTE MENACE

According to Planet Buyback, Uganda produces 600 metric tons of plastic waste every day. To put this into perspective, let’s think about the average adult female African bush elephant (the largest land mammal in Uganda after its male counterpart) which weighs about 3,000kg. Now, imagine, for whatever reason that you had 200 of these stacked up upon each other. That’s a lot of waste, right? To make things worse, less than 20% of it is recycled. 20% translates to about 40 elephants. So what happens to the rest of the waste?  It is irresponsibly handled in a manner that is not sustainable which results into the rubbish on our streets, blocked drainage systems and ecological degradation of marine ecosystems, habitats & biodiversity.

The project: Grass Pavers UG is intentional about turning the tide on the plastic waste menace one plastic at a time. It intents to recycle it as a construction material that can be used to pave compounds, patios, driveways and walkways.

WHAT ARE PLASTIC PAVERS?

The kind of plastic pavers that this project is planning to make are a type of green grass pavers also known as green pavers. They have a modern design that allows water to easily drain between them, reach the soil beneath and re-circulate safely into the water cycle. This makes them permeable. They are to be made using plastic waste (specifically plastic shopping bags [LDPE] & plastic bottles [PET]) and sand. The plastic will be melted and some sand added which will then be transferred into an oiled mould and left to cool. Because plastic is non-water absorbent, the pavers also take on this property eliminating the risk of fungus or algae. The sand added also acts as a fire retardant. In case of a fire, the sand would then slow it down because it is not flammable.

The plastic pavers are an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional concrete pavers and can be used by both businesses and homeowners to pave their compounds, patios, driveways and walk ways. This affordable housing material will not only add an aesthetic feel to modern architecture but is also stronger, cheaper, has lightweight and is more durable.

A GENDER-SENSITIVE APPROACH AND CLOSING THE ECO-GENDER GAP

Women play a crucial part in the use and recycling of plastic waste but their role is still an invisible one. Primarily, women make the purchasing decisions for goods in most households giving them the power to choose green options. At the same time, they also contribute to the green economy by picking and sorting plastic waste. Women are also the largest consumers of products in the green economy. We want to strengthen this profile and uplift women in Uganda’s construction industry, a field that is very male dominated.

We want to hire women at every level of operation as technical staff and casual laborers. The casual laborers will be trained on how to sort plastic waste, make the platic pavers, install them and do maintenance works. This will provide accessible job opportunities to various women in local communities.

By employing women to produce a product that is not necessarily a feminine commodity, we want to infiltrate a male dominated space while communicating the message that both genders are capable of the same things. In the same sprit we also want to raise awareness and create more visibility for women in construction. We are also communicating that taking care the planet is just the women’s role, but instead, should be a combined effort by all genders.

CONTRIBUTING TOWARDS THE SDG’S

SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities has outcome targets that include affordable housing, reduction of environmental impact of cities, sustainable and inclusive urbanization. Our grass pavers will directly contribute towards affordable housing by providing a product that is cheap and uses minimum recourses. By recycling plastic waste, employing a design that allows easy water drainage and promotes planting grass, it will reduce the environmental impact of built environments. It will also promote more inclusive urbanization by employing women at all stages of operation to pick plastic waste, sort it, manufacture pavers, install them and also do the maintenance work.

SUMMARY OF OUR CANVAS BUSINESS MODEL:

Our key partners are potential donors & sponsors of eco-friendly materials and hardware stores with our product. Our key activities include waste gathering & sorting, making pavers, installing pavers, sales, marketing and strategic alliances. Key resources include plastic waste and a working space. Our value propositions include competitive prices, environmental benefit and women empowerment. We intend to employ a customer first relationship to promote word of mouth marketing, use channels like retail & online stores and use the cost optimization strategy. The revenue streams will include sales of grass pavers & surplus recyclable waste, donors and sponsors.

CONCLUSION

The African spirit of Ubuntu dictates that we recognize that communitarian activities can work to ensure that we have a positive impact beyond ourselves and for me, this project is a step towards not only realizing this but also towards female economic empowerment. I do hope that every single person can identify just one shared challenge/problem in our society and choose to be proactive about it.

EDITOR’S COMMENT

Atukunda Mercy Sabiiti graduate civil and environmental engineer. She is a member of Avrateq, a visualization brand being natured by the 8M Forum. She is also the lead on the project: Grass Pavers UG, an initiative working to contribute towards more sustainable cities and communities. She has a keen interest in researching, writing and discussing innovative technologies and environmental concerns. Mercy believes that solving our developmental problems is a collective responsibility and creative innovation is a viable pathway to a more sustainable future for Africa.

Mercy welcomes interested parties including but not limited to donors, sponsors, industrialists and investors. She’s reachable on email: mercysabiiti@gmail.com  and mobile +256774763133.

By Atukunda Mercy Sabiiti

Graduate civil and environmental engineer.

Email: mercysabiiti@gmail

Mobile +256774763133.

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