Is plastic housing the solution to Ghana’s sanitation and housing challenges?

In Ghana, the use of plastic cuts across various industries. Plastic has become an integral part of the buying and selling processes in the country. Plastics packaging constitutes about 26% of the total volume of all plastics used. 

Plastic remains the preferred choice by both producers and consumers due to its lightweight nature as well as its ability to store food and prevent it from contamination. Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 2.58 million metric tonnes of raw plastics are imported into the country annually, of which 73 % effectively ends up as waste, while only 19 % is re-used. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ghanaians generate over a million tonnes of plastic waste each year. The  UNDP further stated that an estimated 2% to 5%  of the figure ends up on recycling factories. The other 95 % ends up in landfill sites, illegal dumping sites, and on the streets.  

Since most of these plastics are non-biodegradable, they become waste.  Plastic waste has thus become a big challenge for governments across the globe and Ghana is no exception. Subsequently, several initiatives and measures are being taken by governments to address the scourge of plastic waste, yet the problem persists.

The Ghanaian government contemplated banning certain kinds of plastic usage in 2015  as a means of addressing the challenges of plastic waste but this has since not been fully implemented and the plastic waste challenge continues. Many people across the globe are thinking outside the box to come up with innovations to address the problem of plastic waste. One such individual is Ghanaian-born Nelson Boateng, the CEO of Nelplast, which uses sand with shredded plastics and red oxide to make bricks for building. Boateng hopes to lead the recycling revolution in Ghana. The 36-year-old began the initiative between 2015 and 2016 when there were threats from the government to ban plastic usage in the country. “When the government was trying to say let’s ban plastic and I learned on the news that plastic is choking gutters, causing floods, deaths and other things, I also felt very bad,” he said. “We have always felt bad when our name was mentioned as being contributors of plastic waste pollution”, he added 

Having started with the manufacturing of poly bags,  Mr Boateng said he and his colleagues did not feel happy about their contribution to plastic waste pollution. Hence, he had to quit and take a paradigm shift and venture into a more sustainable business. Boateng said he was motivated to venture into the plastic waste recycling business to preserve the environment and to help solve the country’s plastic waste problems.

The idea, he said, was to come up with a business that would be more sustainable and usable in such a way that it will not cause further pollution. Explaining the process in making the blocks, he said: “We crush, wash and semi-dry the plastic waste and mix it with the sand at the proportion of 70% of sand and 30% of plastic, and feed them into an extruder to make pastes, then feed the paste into moulds to produce paving blocks or interlocking bricks under hydraulic pressure”. 

“Using these kinds of bricks for affordable housing has great potential 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. According to him, the plastic blocks can also be used as foundation bricks in waterlogging or in salty areas.

Touching on its durability, he said the combination of plastics and sand for the product made the buildings last a lifetime. “Plastic takes over 500 years to start degrading and as for sand, a thousand years”, he said while indicating that the bricks were laid without cement and therefore have the ability to expand and contract when there is a shake in the earth. “There won’t be cracks, water also doesn’t have an effect on it and it will reduce your yearly maintenance. It is very durable and lasts for a lifetime”, he added.

Currently,  there is an increasing cost of cement and other building materials in Ghana with a housing deficit of two million housing units.  Therefore, for some Ghanaians having affordable houses becomes a mere dream. But with Boateng’s plastic waste invention, making affordable housing will be a dream come true for the underprivileged and low-income earning Ghanaians.

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 and reduce the cost of power consumption. “Most people will be wondering won’t it be too hot? No, the blocks are designed in such a way that there is a groove in between that does not allow heat to come in and also maintain the temperature of the room”, he said. With the help of this plastic brick company, Mr Nelson is creating job employment in the country and currently has employed 300 waste pickers and 63 workers.  Mr Boateng believes that with the right support and investment, Ghana could solve its housing as well as sanitation problems with his innovation.

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