African entrepreneurs have been recognised for their work to cut plastic pollution on land and at sea. The Afri-Plastics Challenge, run by UK innovation prize experts Challenge Works, handed out £4 million in prizes at a recent awards ceremony in Kenya.
Helping households to earn a living through waste plastic collection, Togo’s Green Industry Plast (GIP-TOGO) is a recycling business that sorts, shreds, cleans and bags the plastic shreds for re-use, including in ecological paving slabs.
Speaking of their £1 million award win, CEO Gado Bemah said,” Up to 40% of households in Lomé (where the company is based) dump their rubbish in the natural environment – it is a public health menace and destroying the Togolese coastal and marine ecosystem.
“We will be able to train more women involved in plastic waste collection activities to help them grow their income. Through awareness campaigns involving communities, school children, their parents and local leaders, we are increasing knowledge and recycling rates.”
Plastic made from invasive plants
Chemolex, in Kenya, won £750,000 to scale production of Biopactic, a biogradeable alternative to plastic made from invasive water hyacinths that grow aggressively in Lake Victoria. This next-generation material can completely replace single use plastic in food and product packaging, while dealing with an invasive plant impacting on the local marine ecosystem.
Clifford Okoth Owino, Founder & CEO, explained, ““We supply 100% biodegradable and sustainable bioplastic material – Biopactic – that is a superior alternative to the single use plastic polymers used in food and product packaging and diaper manufacturing. Our patented precision bio-conversion technology enables us to sustainably utilise the invasive water hyacinth plants for bioplastic production to replace the use of these single-use plastics.
“Over the course of the last year, we have completed market research and analysis for our products and have started commercial production and supply. We currently supply more than 8,000 pieces of biodegradable bread bags and other customised packaging solutions across the Kenyan market. Chemolex has also developed biodegradable diapers and sanitary pads which are currently available in the Kenyan market.”
Converting plastic into cooking gas
£500,000 has been won by Mega Gas in Kenya which converts waste plastic into an affordable cooking gas for people living on less than US$1 a day. It uses a thermal cracking process that creates no emissions, residue or pollution to turn plastic pollution, such as polythene, into a fuel for rural families.
Peter Njeri, CEO of Mega Gas, said, “Growing up in Nairobi’s Soweto neighbourhood, my brothers and I would need to walk for kilometres searching for firewood to use as fuel, but this would fill our kitchen with smoke, and caused respiratory issues for our mother. This challenge was shared by our whole community and is what inspired me to find an alternative solution.
“4.2 million people die annually from indoor pollution because they do not have access to clean and affordable energy. Meanwhile humanity produces about 300 million tons of plastic waste each year, with much of this ending up in our rivers and polluting our planet.
“Mega Gas aims to solve both of these problems by recycling plastic waste into clean, affordable energy source. We use a patented thermal cracking process that converts plastic waste into a gas which is harvested, compressed into cylinders, and sold at affordable prices.”
Other winners include:
Chanja Datti (Nigeria) – awarded £750,000 towards its work to sort and bail plastic before selling it on to manufacturers.
EcoCoCo Homecare (Kenya) – awarded £250,000 for its alternatives to plastic homeware products that use fibres from coconut husks left over from coconut oil production, including scouring pads, scrubbing brushes and brooms.
Toto Safi (Rwanda) – awarded £100,000 for its diapers-on-demand service which supplies sustainable cloth diapers as a realistic alternative to single-use plastic-based nappies. Through its app, parents can order clean and sterilised nappies at an affordable cost, while used nappies are taken away to be cleaned.
Catharina Natang (Cameroon) – awarded £250,000 to train fashion designers in Africa to make sustainable choices in the textiles they use and understand plant-based alternatives to polymer-based materials.
Ukwenza VR (Kenya) – awarded £250,000 for its use of virtual reality to explain the journey of a piece of plastic after it is dumped, including the damage it does to local environments, to persuade people to make different choices around plastic consumption and disposal.
Baus Taka Enterprise (Kenya) – awarded £250,000 for its mobile app to encourage people to segregate their plastic waste – through competitions it offers cash rewards and points that can be redeemed for medical services in partnership with health clinics.
Launched in July 2021, the Afri-Plastics Challenge received over 1000 entries from innovators across sub-Saharan Africa. The 40 most promising teams were backed with an additional £4.8 million of seed funding, grants and support to develop plastic recycling solutions and reduce waste.
The successful innovations are paving the way to revolutionise Africa’s approach to reducing reliance on plastic. They also support the empowerment of women and girls by creating economic opportunities for women. Sixty per cent of entries that made it to the final 40 were women-led.
The Challenge is funded by the Government of Canada, whose High Commissioner in Nairobi, Christopher Thornley, said: “Plastic pollution is an issue that affects everyone. Plastics that make their way into the marine ecosystem are just as damaging whether they originated in Mombasa or Montreal, Lagos or London. The winners of the Afri-Plastics Challenge show there is a way forward for establishing a successful circular economy for plastic waste, with innovations capable of changing how we all use and dispose of plastic – not only in Africa but around the world.”
More details at afri-plastics.challenges.org