Kenyan startup makes furniture from plastic waste

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A sea of plastic that's being reused for good.

In Kenya, this area of Nairobi is the scene of an open-air tip of plastic waste.

Now, a start-up called Noma Green Plastic limited is giving a second life to 30 tonnes of it every month.

Seven employees collect it from various dumps, sort it and heat it using thermo-regulated equipment through moulds.

They then take shape into poles, tiles, table beams, and other pieces of outdoor furniture -- a little help for the planet.

"We believe we contribute to the action on climate change in two ways. One is that we clean up the environment. We take the waste plastic from landfills, and we know the contribution of landfills to global warming, and the second way, our products are very great substitutes for wood. Just look at it this way, one wooden pole is one of our plastic poles. So, the more we use the plastic poles, the more trees we have in our environment and the more we can save our environment from deforestation," says Mugo Macharia, Founder of Noma Green Plastic limited.

Mugo says he started the venture not only to help clean the excess plastic dumped in the environment, but also to give it a more aesthetic purpose, like turning it into benches and tables.

"The beauty of plastic is that it's malleable. We can make it into so many different forms, for example, we can make it into outdoor furniture like the bench I'm seated on, the table that's in front of me that's in progress, and we can partner with anyone who has any form of plastic waste. We can take your plastic waste and we can give it to you in the form that you want. You want signboards for your roads, you want flower pots. It's malleable so we are limited by the extent of the imagination. Because the more products that we can make out of (waste) plastic, the more we can save our environment from the plastic menace," says Macharia.

The company also makes poles for fences, a lot of them: 100 a day.

They cost 900 Kenyan shillings on average ($7.60) and are said to last about 40 years.

With different moulds, customers are poised with circular, square or rectangular poles of varied lengths.

"Initially, I used to buy wooden poles and use them for fencing, but at night, people would steal them and use them as firewood for cooking. Now I discovered these plastic ones. And now, they are not getting lost because no one can steal them, because it's waste anyway. So I prefer them because they are more durable, they can take nails just like wooden (ones), and I will continue installing them until I cover the whole farm," says John Njenga, a Noma Green poles customer.

According to the UN Environment Programme 400 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year.

Erastus Ooko, from Greenpeace Africa, applauds Noma's efforts to help the global plastic waste crisis, but says they are just a drop in the ocean.

"What Noma Plastic is doing is commendable, and from my perspective, considered as a necessary evil to deal with the plastic that is already in existence in the environment. But the plastic crisis or the plastic menace needs to be dealt with from the source. And that is why we are campaigning for the global plastic treaty to be able to look at this problem holistically from the source and that is the only way that we can be able to close the tap on plastics," says Erastus Ooko, Plastic Project officer at Greenpeace Africa.

But even if Noma's products won't solve the climate change crisis on their own, every little bit helps.

"The Noma plastic poles are giving young trees an opportunity to be able to grow, because they are saving these trees from being cut down and used as poles. And as these trees grow, they sequester more carbon from the environment and thus they are contributing much (a lot) in the fight on climate change," says Ooko.

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