Creating social value by recycling waste plastic into construction materials
Catherine Weetman talks to Andy Bownds, the founder of Eco Brixs, in Uganda.
Eco Brixs Mission is “To create green, environmentally friendly, sustainable solutions to lift people out of abject poverty in Uganda”, and it does that by giving trash – waste plastic – a value. That means anyone in the community can recycle.
With no formal waste management system in Uganda, plastic can be seen everywhere. Discarded on roadsides, littered throughout markets and burning on rubbish heaps, plastic waste is creating a devastating impact on both Uganda’s environment and the human population.
Seeing this impact led Andy and his team to find a solution to Uganda’s plastic problem.
Eco Brixs started out in 2017. Frustrated with the lack of waste management systems in Masaka, Andy Bownds and his team started collecting plastic in his back garden, and after collecting 2 tonnes, decided to start a simple plastic collection facility called ‘Masaka Recycling Initiative’.
It soon became clear that the size and scale of the problem was far greater than what anyone had envisaged – 90 per cent of plastic in Uganda goes to landfill or is illegally burnt. The small percentage of plastic waste is recycled is typically shipped to China and India rather than supporting the local economy. They began to investigate more effective ways to recycle plastic which would help support the local communities and economy. After 6 months of research and knocking on countless doors, they developed an innovative plastic-sand composite paver which has been proven to be stronger, lighter and more durable than concrete.
Fast-forward to 2019, and Masaka Recycling Initiative has now evolved into ‘Eco Brixs’, one of the largest recycling facilities outside of Kampala. Eco Brixs has received backing from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and with partnerships with organisations including Coca Cola, Masaka Diocese and Buganda Kingdom, and has plans to expand to other communities.
In just a couple of years, Eco Brixs has made a significant impact, with over 1000 individuals receiving extra income from the plastic waste chain created by Eco Brixs, 20 full-time staff on the books, up to 15 tons of plastic collected each month, and over $42,000 being injected into the local community.
Podcast host Catherine Weetman is a circular economy business advisor, workshop facilitator, speaker and writer. Her award-winning book, includes lots of practical examples and tips on getting started. Catherine founded Rethink Global in 2013, to help businesses use circular, sustainable approaches to build a better business (and a better world).
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Read on for a summary of the podcast and links to the people, organisations and other resources we mention.
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- Eco Brixs https://www.ecobrixs.org/
- Uganda Marathon https://ugandamarathon.com/
- Henry Blanchard, founder of Uganda Marathon https://www.linkedin.com/in/henryblanchard/
- Georgina Elliott, Eco Brixs Chair https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgina-elliott-99349263/
- Circular Economy Podcasts on plastics:
- Episode 6 – Adam Fairweather of Smile Plastics – how to reimagine waste https://www.rethinkglobal.info/adam-fairweather-reimagine-waste/
- Episode 12 – David Bassetti of 3D Seed, helping communities turn waste plastic into 3D printed creations https://www.rethinkglobal.info/episode-12-david-bassetti-of-3d-seed/
- Our blogs on plastics:
- Six ways to create a plastics circular economy https://www.rethinkglobal.info/six-ways-to-create-a-plastics-circular-economy/
- 3 ways to rethink packaging with the circular economy https://www.rethinkglobal.info/3-ways-to-rethink-packaging-with-the-circular-economy/
- 5 steps to circular, sustainable packaging https://www.rethinkglobal.info/5-steps-to-circular-sustainable-packaging/
Andy Bownds is the founder of Eco Brixs, which was set up to combat the issue of plastic waste in rural communities in Uganda.
Established in the small town of Masaka it collects up to 20 tons of plastic a month through a network of over 2,000 plastic pickers. We “Give Trash a Value” and buy every kg of plastic that community members bring to us for recycling.
The photo shows Andy and Father James Ssendege who is Eco Brixs key community partner and a board member. He donated the land in town that we operate on.
Peter Desmond met Gee Elliott, Chair of Eco Brixs, when she was passing through London in February – here is Gee with an Eco Brixs!
Working with the most vulnerable members of the community, specifically targeting the disabled community for employment, Eco Brixs in just two years has injected in excess of $95,000 into the local economy.
Eco Brixs is empowering people to earn their own money and build a sustainable future for themselves.
And with over 600 tons of plastic being dumped every day in Uganda, our closed-loop system of turning plastic into end-products is super green and helps save the planet. We are proud to be “Building Zero Waste Communities”
What we talk about
[02:14] We start by asking Andy how Eco Brixs got started
Using plastic recycling to create social value
[06:43] Andy explains how they developed a useful end-product to create value from all that plastic waste
[10:18] We find out how the collection system works. Andy tells us how Eco Brixs has already scaled up from such a tiny starting point in his back yard, back in 2017.
We discuss the importance of finding ways to create monetary value at the start, to help motivate people and create vital income streams for local communities.
[13:25] Andy talks about the challenges Eco Brixs has faced. To expand further and create more widespread value, Andy needs to bring in funding partners. Get in touch if you want to help Eco Brixs scale up to the next level!
The importance of support networks
[17:16] Andy explains how support from the local community has helped Eco Brixs to grow. We talk about plans for the next phase, with an ambition for five factories in the next five years.
[21:28] We discuss the benefits of networking and support from the local ‘innovation ecosystem’ in helping raise awareness and buy-in.
[23:10] Andy shares his ‘top tips’ for businesses and start-ups wanting to go circular.
Uganda Marathon – sharing social and financial value
[26:21] Andy tells us about the financial circular economy created by Uganda Marathon, founded by Henry Blanchard.
[28:29] Eco Brixs has recently celebrated reaching an impressive milestone, having recycled over 250 tonnes so far. It is nowrecycling up to 20 tonnes per month in Masaka.
Supporting disabled and disadvantaged people
[28:45] Andy tells us how to get in touch or find out more. He goes onto explain how EcoBrixs is working with local disabled communities, aiming for disabled people to form 50 per cent of the Eco Brixs team.
Want to find out more about the circular economy?
To go deeper, you could buy Catherine’s book, A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains This comprehensive guide uses a bottom-up, practical approach. It includes lots of real examples from around the world, to help you really ‘get’ the circular economy. Even better, you’ll be inspired with ideas to make your own business more competitive, resilient and sustainable.
Please let us know what you think of the podcast – and we’d love it if you could leave us a review on iTunes, or wherever you find your podcasts. Or send us a Tweet: @Rethink _Global.
Thanks to Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, otherwise known as the brilliant, inventive and generous folk duo, O’Hooley & Tidow for allowing me to use the instrumentals from the live version of Summat’s Brewin’ as music for the podcast. You can find the whole track (inspired by the Copper Family song “Oh Good Ale”) on their album, also called Summat’s Brewin’. Or, follow them on Twitter.