By Mike Kihaki | September 27th 2020

It has been three years since the government effected a ban on plastic paper bags, and the manufacturing industry is still feeling the ripple effects.

While several plastic manufacturing industries closed shop after the ban, for one man, the move raised his bar and gave a new lease of life to his business. Meet Dr Oscar Joshua Aghan, who uses plastic bags that are still in circulation to make building materials.

In Aghan’s world, garbage is gold. He runs Intercontinental Renewable Energy Company Limited in Kariobangi South, where plastic waste is upcycled to the Kenyan construction industry.

Aghan started the business in 2013 using plastic waste. His initial products were poles that can be used in construction. The process begins by crushing the plastic waste using an industrial crasher.

What is left of the plastic waste is then blended with sand and loaded to another machine that moulds the mixture. The result is plastic poles and other building materials which are unique and a new alternative building technology not only in Kenya but worldwide.

Aghan says he came up with the idea when he realised it was difficult to dispose of plastic waste and decided to change plastic in his neighbourhood to something useful.

“I tried to melt them in a big pan to see what the result would be and I realised with some expertise, something useful would come out of it,” he says adding that having passion in engineering burnt his ego to go deeper into it. After 13 years of intense struggle, he has managed to stamp his authority in the industry that is rarely thought of. Apart from affordability, Aghan says his products are durable, strong and environment friendly.

“Recycling plastic waste is my passion. Plastic roofing tiles are more durable and have better aesthetic value. Moreover, it gives you affordable building materials, it doesn’t lose colour with time, it doesn’t biodegrade, doesn’t burn easily, it is safely used to harvest rainwater for drinking, it can take strong stress and also it doesn’t transmit heat,” he told CityBiz.

Completed tiles made from the waste plastics. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

This upcycling initiative has enabled the Certified Financial Management graduate to transform many lives using the garbage by working along with needy youth and women who collect waste in the neighbourhood.

“We have about 300 youth spread across Eastlands who are our source of raw materials. We have clustered them into self-help groups to create structures,” he says, adding that they identify the type of plastic, clean, crush and deliver to the company. He pays them on delivery, with the estimated supply of raw material currently standing between 40 and 50 tonnes of plastic every day.

Aghan is optimistic that his dream of housing Africa using recycled garbage will be one of the biggest business and environmental breakthroughs where decent affordable housing will be readily available to all.

“Today Kenyans can house themselves using their garbage affordably. As a social enterprise, we transform what is an environmental challenge into a beneficial product,” he told CityBiz adding that by doing so, this will go a long way in pushing Kenya’s green agenda.

Says Aghan, “Plastic is a big menace in the world. If not disposed of properly, it can be a disaster.  As a green social entrepreneur, my passion is to restore a green world like the garden of Eden.”

Inside Aghan’s Komarock factory is an array of products including plastic posts, chain link, paving blocks, walkway slabs, timber planks and roofing tiles.

He reveals that his customer base has increased tremendously because many people are finding solutions to vandalism, high costing and short term service from other sources.

“Kenyan construction cost is high because most of the construction materials are imported. Also, wooden poles are prone to vandalism for firewood or destruction by ants. With plastic they are guaranteed 20 years”, he says.

He is quick to add that he has to cope with several challenges like high running costs, saying that “This is an intensive business that requires heavy investment in machines.”

Nevertheless, Aghan intends to extend his market to other countries facing the same challenges. His driving force is conserving the environment while transforming the youth. In 2014, he was awarded the Sankalp Award for Africa for his innovation.