Five local start-ups feted in plastic waste innovation challenge


A woman goes about her work in a water hyacinth-filled part of Lake Victoria in Homa Bay town in this photo taken in October 2021. A Kenyan business is producing a biodegradable alternative to plastic from the hyacinth.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The five were among 40 innovative firms across sub-Saharan Africa that received a total of Sh652 million in funding to develop solutions that increase plastic recycling, reduce volumes of plastic waste, and influence behaviour change regarding plastic waste.

One of the start-ups, Chemolex, was awarded Sh119 million to scale production of Biopactic, a biodegradable alternative to plastic made from invasive water hyacinth that grows aggressively in Lake Victoria. The next-generation material can replace single-use plastic in food and product packaging – not only reducing plastic pollution but also dealing with an invasive plant impacting Kenya’s marine ecosystem.

Another, Mega Gas, was awarded Sh79 million for converting waste plastic into affordable cooking gas. The other three start-ups won prizes of about Sh40 million each. One, EcoCoCo Homecare, has developed alternatives to plastic homeware products that use fibres from coconut husks left over from coconut oil production, including scouring pads, scrubbing brushes and brooms.

Ukwenza VR, uses virtual reality to explain the journey of a piece of plastic after it is dumped, including the damage it does to local environments, to persuade people to make different choices around plastic consumption and disposal.

The other, Baus Taka Enterprise, has developed a mobile app to encourage people to separate their plastic waste – through competitions it offers cash rewards and points that can be redeemed for medical services in partnership with health clinics.

The top prize of the Afri-plastics challenge, Sh159 million, went to Togo’s Green Industry Plast (GIP-TOGO) – a recycling business that helps households earn a living through waste plastic collection. GIP-TOGO then sorts, shreds, cleans and bags the shredded plastic to be used again, including in ecological paving slabs.

Launched in July 2021 by Challenge Works and the Government of Canada, the Afri-Plastics Challenge received 1,141 entries from innovators across sub-Saharan Africa. “The successful innovations developed through the Afri-Plastics Challenge have paved the way to revolutionise Africa’s approach to reducing the reliance on plastic,” noted Christopher Thornley, Canada’s High Commissioner in Nairobi.