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UNEP prize: Kenyan among seven world winners

Ms Nzambi Matee is a materials engineer and head of Gjenge Makers, which produces sustainable low-cost construction materials made of recycled plastic waste and sand.
Ms Nzambi Matee is a materials engineer and head of Gjenge Makers. The firm makes low-cost building materials from recycled plastic waste and sand. Photo: UNEP.

Ms Nzambi Matee, 29, is this year’s African continent’s winner of UNEP Young Champions of the Earth prize. She is a materials engineer and head of her firm, Gjenge Makers. The firm makes low-cost construction materials made of recycled plastic waste and sand.

Ms Matee with other six winners each from other continents are all 30 years old or younger.  United Nations Environment Programme said that a jury of global experts selected winners following a competitive public nomination.

The winners’ work included making water from the air, recycling plastic into slabs to urging fishing boats to carry plastics from the ocean.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said that the winners showed innovative ideas with action could help solve environmental challenges.

She said that young people were calling for meaningful and immediate solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Ms Andersen said that this was a decisive decade to cut emission as well as protect and restore ecosystems.

“UNEP Young Champions demonstrate that all of us can contribute, starting where we are with what we have,” she said. “We need the entire spectrum of humanity to share this global responsibility and this profound opportunity.”

Gjenge Makers

The firm makes alternative and affordable building products. It makes pavers using recycled waste plastic and sand.

Ms Matee says that the firm works with plastic bottle tops and seals manufacturers. The firm collects offcuts and scraps. Gjenge Makers mixes these with discarded plastics it received from waste collectors.

“The alternative building products space is a very new industry and therein exist a myriad of opportunities,” Ms Matee says. “At present we have more demand than we can supply and this is the genesis of our biggest challenge.”

The firm makes 1,000 bricks a day. It recycles about 500 kilograms of waste plastic a day.

About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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