NAIROBI, Kenya Jul 15 – Killing two birds with one stone: This is exactly what Kevin Mureithi of Eco Blocks and Tiles has achieved.
By converting plastic waste into affordable eco-friendly roofing tiles, he has created a new initiative that is not only inspiring but has sparked the interest of many.
Ahead of the World Youth Skills Day which is celebrated every July 15, Capital Business caught up with Mureithi, an environmental enthusiast who took us back to when he joined forces with other youth through a community-based organization that focused on collecting waste in their hometown.
“Initially, we ran a youth-based organization that collected waste and we would charge a fee, as we kept on disposing off waste, we noticed it was quickly accumulating with the majority of them being plastic, which is hazardous to the environment, we then started thinking of how we could convert waste into building materials,” he said.
Years later, Mureithi runs Eco Tiles and blocks firm which provides premium roofing material that is eco-friendly, aesthetically appealing, lighter, a good insulator and is 30 percent cheaper than other tiles in the market.
So far, it has provided roofing to 70 homes countrywide.
The Gilgil- based firm which was founded in 2015 gets the plastic waste collected by youth and women based aggregators who gather them from, Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Nyahuhruru and Eldoret environs.
Upon collection, the production process entails three steps- the plastics is heated, then mixed with sand and finally pressed to make a roofing tile.
This is an everyday process at the Gilgil workshop which produces approximately 70,000 tiles per month and is sold at a Sh120 per tile.
“Because the building materials are cheaper, there is a higher demand, consequently, there is higher demand for waste plastic for the production process and this presents an effective means of managing waste materials and create employment,” he said.
Kevin pointed out the firm’s plans to scale up its sales to more diverse clients including architects, firms, contractors to include the already existing individual housing customers
Owing to the lightness and affordability of the tiles, he said, a modern house can save up to 40 percent in cash which includes the cost of timber usually used to support the conventional heavy tiles.
“For a typical three-bedroom house, we use tiles which represents 1.6 tonnes of recycled plastic, this tells you of the impact on the environment, more people within the waste collection and tiles production chain benefit from waste collection business,” he added.
The firm has employed 20 people including 8 who work in the production side. Besides, it relies on dozens of organizations and individuals who collect waste.
Although the initiative is so aligned to renewable agenda, Kevin said some Kenyans are quite skeptical of the idea of waste management and the use of the end product as a building material.
“Some of our clients would be so receptive to the tiles, especially on its durability, beauty and quality but when you tell them it was made from plastic waste, they shy off,” Kevin said adding that it is one of the main challenges faced.
He said the firm also struggles with acceptance, access to capital and the fact that the roofing tiles are new in the market which may prolong acceptance from clients.
While renewable waste is gaining traction in the country, he hopes that the new initiative will have a larger impact on waste management which remains one of the main challenges, not only in urban planning but across the country.
“There are tones of plastic everywhere, being a highly durable product, plastics usually lack the end users but with the conversion of shredded waste to roofing tiles, we hope this initiative continues to create a large impact,” he said.
Being a beneficiary of the British Leaders in Innovation Fellowship (LIF) Programme jointly implemented by Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA) and United Kingdom (UK’s) Royal Academy of Engineering (RAENG) Kevin attributed the program to the growth of his startup saying it broadened his scaleability and innovation skills
“The program through various mentors across the globe helped us to learn ways of appropriating ourselves to the right clients, Initially we focused on broadcast marketing which was not efficient but now we have a right focus on who our clients are,” he said.
Commenting on the role of the LIF program, Susie Kitchens, the Deputy British High Commissioner to Kenya, noted that the yearly program is aimed at nurturing positive social change through Kenyan entrepreneurship.
“Ranging from eco-friendly roofing tiles, solar-powered milk chillers, to battery-powered electrical tuk-tuks, innovations developed. the LIF community has the potential to impact almost every sector in Kenya,” she said of the program that has been running since 2018.
Highlighting the firm’s contribution to the Government’s Big Four Agenda of housing and Manufacturing, Mureithi urged President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government to embrace more locally sourced products in order to encourage youth innovativeness among the Kenyan youth.
And as part of his advice to young people eyeing a similar initiative, Kevin highlighted the need of doing sufficient market research and getting appropriate feedback from the end-user on the need of a product before venturing into it.
“I would also advice youth to checking opportunities with government agencies tasked with sourcing innovations from Kenyans including KENIA and the National Environment Trust Fund (NETF). There are golden opportunities out there if you remain consistent and committed,” he concluded.