Before launching her company, Gjenge Makers, Nzambi Matee worked as a data analyst and engineer in the oil industry. After seeing the abundance of plastic waste on the streets of Nairobi, she decided to quit her job and set up a small laboratory in her mother’s garden to test combinations of sand and plastic to see if these polluting materials could be turned into building bricks. Matee eventually won a scholarship to study in the materials lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she eventually developed a prototype for the machine that now produces the textured bricks.

Made from a combination of plastic and sand, the bricks have a melting point above 350°C and are more durable than their concrete counterparts. Matee and his team source much of the raw product from factories and recyclers, sometimes free of charge, allowing the company to reduce the price of the product and make it affordable for schools and homeowners. To date, Gjenge Makers has recycled more than 20 tons of plastic and created 112 jobs in the community. A true ecological feat!