The world is experiencing the severe impacts of climate change, nature loss, and pollution as a result of plastic production and pollution.
Plastic waste, aside from the potential to contaminate agricultural land, is clogging up the ocean waters and is damaging fishing stocks.
Globally, we currently produce about 250 million metric tons of plastic waste yearly. Already, some 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow into oceans annually (with projections that it may triple by 2040) and this pollution is reportedly affecting over 800 marine and coastal species through ingestion, entanglement, and other dangers.
The chemicals used in the production of plastic are toxic and detrimental to the human body. What’s more, the open burning of plastics contributes to air pollution.
According to statistics from UNEP, plastic production drastically increased from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to 348 million tonnes in 2017, making it a global industry valued at US$522.6 billion. This trend persists and doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon as the industry is expected to double in capacity by 2040.
The good thing is that entrepreneurs and innovators are finding local solutions to the planet’s plastic problem. Their companies are just some of the thousands throughout Africa that are making an impact and making strides toward developing sustainable business models for plastic recycling on varying scales.
These enterprises are often informal businesses without proper licenses, small-scale, making a small profit with cheap yet robust machinery and importantly creating jobs for many people in their communities.
One of such entrepreneurs is Kevin Mureithi, the Founder of Eco Blocks & Tiles, a company that has pioneered the manufacture of eco-friendly building materials such as roofing tiles made from recycled plastics and sand in Kenya.
Kevin Mureithi is the proud owner of a production location where 15,000 roofing tiles are produced per month and 20 young people have a job.
He holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Science and Technology from IHE Delft (Netherlands), and prior to setting up Eco Blocks & Tiles, founded and worked for a community-based organization in Nakuru County known as Trace Kenya Group.
As an experienced recycling expert and passionate environmental entrepreneur who leans more towards the circular economy sector, Kevin founded Eco Blocks & Tiles to reduce the impacts of waste pollution in the environment while supplying home builders with unique premium construction materials.
For Kevin Mureithi and his team, the mission is simply to: supply home builders with premium building products that make their houses stylish and unique, and to also reduce environmental pollution caused by plastic and glass waste by recycling these into distinct building materials that are aesthetically appealing, longer-lasting and affordable.
Eco tiles, which is one of the products, is a composite roofing material made from recycled plastic and sand, which makes it unique.
According to Kevin, the decision to make the product was to provide affordable and durable traditional options, like Eco tiles, that offer cost savings of up to 40% because they are light replacing the need to use expensive reinforced timber – a better option than the expanding import-ridden local market that is saturated with a lot of expensive imports like stone-coated roofing tiles and shingles from Europe and Asia.
In addition to reduced cost, the product is much quicker to install and does not easily break, thereby eliminating the need for clients to pay for unnecessary breakages during transportation and roofing.
Indeed, Kevin Mureithi, through Eco tiles, is filling a market need and ensuring environmental sustainability. However, making the business successful, hasn’t been a smooth ride for him despite the conversations about plastic pollution and the need for sustainable living.
According to him, consumer awareness was highly underestimated based on the above premise. He thought all that he needed was a great product and everything would fly off the shelf, after all, the world was concerned about plastic pollution. But that didn’t seem to be the case.
In fact, branding the product as a green product did not make the impact he thought it would as there was still a low acceptance level of green products in developing countries as opposed to the western world. But he is not giving up.
So far, what has helped him has been word of mouth and testimonials from existing clients which is a good business strategy even though takes a long time to close new clients but he believes that, with time, the business will succeed in crafting its own niche market.
He is, however, in talks with the Kenyan government and even the private sector about pollution and climate change and he believes that this could lead to the endorsement of the use of these eco-friendly products and will engineer that shift for people to embrace them in the next few years to come.
When that happens, Kevin Mureithi believes the business will definitely outperform many current building products in the market.