Startup turns waste into cheap building materials

Dr Aghan Oscar

Dr Aghan Oscar. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Plastic waste is a major menace in many suburbs and constitutes the biggest challenge in solid waste management.

This set Dr Aghan Oscar thinking how this could not only be addressed but also turned into an opportunity.

He started researching in 2000 how he could recycle the more than 2000 tonnes of trash generated daily in Nairobi alone. From his findings, he realised waste can be turned into affordable building materials.

To set off on this innovative entrepreneurship journey, he established Kariobangi South: Vanguard Contractors, six year after conducting the research. He took that long to set up the firm as he needed Sh12 million capital.

His dream is now taking shape. The startup now crushes up to a hundred tonnes of plastic waste in a month. The waste is turned into cheaper and durable products such as driveway blocks, solar roofing tiles, walkway slabs and fencing posts that are durable and are not prone to vandalism.

DR. Aghan says his passion for recycling waste is driven by the critical need to have a clean environment.

“In a report for international Environmental Day, the UN warned that at current levels the earth could be awash with 12 billion tonnes of plastic trash by middle of the century. Such worrying revelation, and the fact that plastic waste wasn’t being handled right, compelled me to strive to make the world a better place environmentally,” says Dr. Aghan who holds a bachelor’s of science degree in public health and masters in project management.

“In so doing I sought to reduce and convert the waste into more reliable and environmentally friendly tools of construction while also creating employment.”

Being a former project coordinator with the National Housing Corporation, Dr. Aghan best understands the problems of informal settlements where more than 60 percent of urban population lives.

“Families live in overcrowded homes, and our products are offering solutions through provision of alternative and more affordable building materials as we seek to solve the high cost of construction in the country,” he says.

“Waste has the potential of creating houses for millions of homeless people while curbing pollution in the process. We are looking at a situation where we can house Africans comfortably using their waste. Kenyans are looking for quality and affordable housing, not quality that is imported and of high cost,” Dr. Aghan explains.

“To us waste spells opportunity and we produce products that are not affected by corrosion and have no effects on the environment. When it is extremely hot they absorb the heat. The products also don’t break or burn as they are fire retardant and even if one pours super petrol they don’t catch fire,” he says.

Though not an engineer by profession, Dr. Aghan Oscar personally designed and fabricated all the machinery the factory uses.

He has contracted over 600 youths, who are former street children, to collect discarded plastics and rubber from dumpsites, estates, shopping malls and companies.

He also contracts communities-based organisations who supply him with semi-processed waste material such as plastics that are crushed, cleaned and dried.

The firm pays up to Sh10,000 per tonne of plastic brought in for recycling. The collected plastics are then sorted according to quality.

The plastics are then crushed and molded into different shapes that are used in the construction industry to build low cost, safe and sturdy houses. The firm operates 24 hours a day, enabling it to recycle 100 tonnes of plastics every month. The process of making a pole takes 20 minutes, translating into a minimum of 100 poles daily.

“The poles we make vary in density and size depending on the need. The advantages of using these poles are that the termites don’t eat them. They also don’t rot, and cannot be vandalised for firewood, something that is widespread with timber products. Our products also do not catch fire easily,” he says.

Though a success today, there are challenges that the firm has to endure, like machine breakage especially during the rainy season, as the machine and water don’t work well. Dr. Aghan recommends setting up recycling centres in various parts of the country.

“For every ten plastic poles produced one tree is saved, and one kilogramme of plastic waste can save 2.5kgs of carbon emissions,” he explains.

“Transforming a social challenge into an opportunity can only be done with an integrated society where government, private sector, non-governmental organisations and financial institutions all come together to chase a common goal.”

His aim is to reduce the cost of building houses, reduce deforestation, and increase youth and women empowerment.

“Plastic in itself is not a problem, it’s the way Kenyans dispose it that is the problem. More focus should be on the way plastic is disposed as opposed to banning the end product,” he says.

His poles have been used by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KenHa) in erecting road signs along major highways.

“As the world continues to grapple with the ever increasing quantities of waste, our recycling model could turn out to be one of Africa’s best bet in conserving the environment,” Dr Aghan says.