As a teenager, Nelson Boateng, a resident of Ashaiman near Ghana’s capital Accra, needed to earn some income to support his education as well as aid his underprivileged parents to cater for his siblings in school.
He, therefore, found a job with Zenith Plastics, a Chinese plastic recycling company in Tema, Ghana’s eastern port city, and was attached to the recycling department where he learned to operate, repair, and build extruders.
“These Chinese managers saw my potentials, even though I was still young, anytime they went out to repair broken machines, they made me carry the tools, be with them as they repaired, and they taught me how to fix and build extruders and other equipment,” he told Xinhua.
After working with the Chinese firm for 18 years, Boateng established Nelplast Eco Ghana Ltd, a plastic recycling plant at Katamanso, a community near the Ghanaian capital in 2019. With the skills and experience acquired over the years from the Chinese company, he builds extruders that his company uses to produce sand and plastic-based paving blocks and interlocking bricks for housing.
“We crush, wash and semi-dry the plastic waste and mix it with the sand at the proportion of 70 percent of sand and 30 percent of plastic, and feed them into an extruder to make pastes, then feed the paste into molds to produce paving blocks or interlocking bricks under hydraulic pressure,” he said in an interview at his company’s plastic waste recycling site.
Boateng said what motivated him to venture into plastic waste recycling was his passion to help Ghana to solve its plastic waste problems by using plastic waste as a solution to the shortage of housing units, schools under trees, and unemployment in the country.
According to official data, Ghana generates over one million tons of plastic waste annually, but only five percent is recycled, making landfill sites continually choked and the streets besieged by plastic waste.
“So, we are turning this plastic waste into building materials that the ordinary Ghanaians can afford. We also want to use recycled plastic waste to build homes for those who cannot afford the expensive houses,” he told Xinhua.
“Using this kind of bricks for affordable housing has great potentials to help Ghana to bridge its housing deficit and at the same time rid the towns and cities of the menace of plastic waste and create more jobs,” he said.
“This is our prototype plastic house built this year from 13,400 kilos of plastic waste, retrieved from our gutters and beaches. With 11,000 U. S. dollars you can afford a one-bedroom house like this, which is more durable but more affordable than building with cement blocks,” he added.
The base and the columns of the one-bedroom apartment are made of the normal mortar concreting. But the walls are built with dark-brown bricks made from sand with plastic waste acting as the binding material.
The bricks are interlocked horizontally and vertically by the plugs and sockets designed at their edges, eliminating the use of mortar as the binding material in erecting the walls. The compound is also tiled with colorful pavement blocks made from sand and plastic waste.
Looking at the increasing cost of cement and other building materials in Ghana and a housing deficit of two million housing units, having affordable houses becomes a mere dream, but the innovator said plastic waste becomes the sure way of making affordable housing a dream come true for the underprivileged and low-income earners.
Compared to brick and mortar buildings, Boateng suggested that houses built with the sand-plastic interlocking bricks had a great advantage, as “these bricks will never crack, and dampness is avoided.”
“When there is an earthquake or shakes and cracks on the earth, these bricks can expand, and contract when the earth becomes stable, unlike concrete blocks that either crack or collapse,” he added.
In addition to the cost-efficiency, Boateng said the sand-plastic brick houses are also energy-efficient as the rooms cool naturally due to the hollows in the bricks to prevent heat transfer from outside into the rooms, reducing the cost of power consumption.
Nelplast currently employs 64 persons directly and 300 indirectly, 98 percent of whom are females who collect 20,000 kilos of plastic waste daily, “but the company can only recycle 3,000 kilos of the plastic waste collected in a day, leaving 17,000 kilos unused, so we need support to scale up production.”
Besides the need for collaboration from both the state and private sector to scale up the production, Boateng also underscored the need for some subsidy in electricity charges which constitute about 70 percent of the company’s production cost.