On a sunny Thursday morning, a group of about 15 youths in their early 20s are busy selecting plastic bottles from bales.
This is the start of a recycling process that will turn the stinking waste into an array of home appliance including brand new buckets and water tanks.
They are part of a 73-member staff working under Keiran Smith, the founder of Mr Green Africa, a plastic recycling plant in Nairobi’s Sameer Business Park, on Enterprise Road.
Mr Smith, a trained banker in Switzerland came to Kenya in 2014 with his eyes set on doing business in frontier markets.
“When I came I saw a lot of plastics and for me it was important to do something around this because it was a business opportunity. Waste for many people does not have value, but is can be valuable. It’s just a matter of how you aggregate it,” he says.
Sameer Business Park is where the processing plant is located but the firm’s offices are in Industrial Area.
The factory processes 500 kilogrammes of plastics in a day and 260 tonnes every month.
Tonnes of plastics delivered at the factory are first sorted based on colour codes and other criteria then crushed into pellets before undergoing a rigorous washing process to remove oils and glues.
They are then sold to manufacturers of home appliances such as tanks, buckets.
The factory uses water from a treatment plant that recycles nearly 70 per cent of the water used at the factory.
With 25 collection centres spread across the capital, Mr. Green Africa has employed at least 1,700 people mostly from the city’s informal settlements, getting Sh19 for every kilogramme of plastic waste delivered.
The recycling firm has contracted two truck owners to pick waste from the designated points across the city where they make at least three trips in a day.
Mr Smith says waste collectors are invisible heroes who clean the society’s mess and are hard-working yet for long they have not received the recognition they deserve.
“How can we add value to the people in the informal settlement, the people who have been doing the business? We need to show them dignity,” he adds.
Mr. Green Africa recently signed a deal with global consumer goods manufacturer Unilever to launch a U-Turn waste project where it is reaching out to consumers on recycling of plastics, increase collection points from the city’s 25 to 100 countrywide by 2020.
It has not however been a smooth-sailing journey for Smith. He says that the lack of awareness amongst Kenyans on the value of plastics has been the most daunting so far.
Mr Smith adds that coming from Europe, he had to learn the Kenyan culture first and get involved in the lives of the locals. He however adds that building trust with total strangers to actualise his plastic-recycling idea has been one of the best experiences.
The banker-cum–environmentalist says university graduates need to shift from the mindset of white-collar jobs and embrace what they are passionate about in the face of limited employment opportunities.
“You do not need a degree to excel in your passion, education is important though it should not be over-valued. There are greater opportunities in developing countries. Innovation is happening in Kenya,” Smith says as he walks me around factory.
He cautions young entrepreneurs against opting for short-cuts as they eye fast success in self-employment, adding that tough choices have made Mr. Green Africa a success so far.
“I have learnt to follow value system through tough times, trust and build relationship with the team and work to achieve a common cause with the right people,” Smith says.
Smith adds that getting rid of the plastic eyesore within the city and giving dignity to garbage collectors gives him motivation every day.
“Socially you do something good for someone, environmentally you keep the plastics away from lying all over the place and for your pockets because you can make something small out of it and sustain yourself,” Smith says.