Talking trash

Many a passionate ideas are born in pubs… but seldom do they culminate into a project that is backed by royalty in two countries, namely the Buganda Kingdom and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Queen’s Commonwealth Trust!

Save for Eco Brixs!

Andy Bownds, the founder of Eco Brixs, first arrived, from the UK, in Uganda in 2015, as part of a founding team to set up the Uganda Marathon Foundation.

“The concept of Eco Brixs was born out of a debate with friends in a pub. With two other friends that worked in development, we were debating what the biggest issues will be in our lifetime. I argued about the environment and as the debate, like it often does with your closest friends, got heated, one of my mates pulled up the Uganda Marathon project website page. Amidst the wide range of projects being supported, none had an environmental focus and they drew the conclusion, “You can’t care that much”. The debate may have ended, but ignited a fire in me – how could I help fight the fight against climate change,” says Andy, who continues to be Country Director for Uganda Marathon, a role that he says provided him with the skills and connections to start Eco Brixs.

He returned to Masaka, home to Uganda Marathon and Eco Brixs, and reached out to a friend to help him complete a trial of recycling plastic.

“Plastic was an obvious choice. With no formal waste collection, plastic is a very visual issue in Masaka, as in many parts of Uganda, with trash being burnt along roadsides. Together with Johnson, we started collecting plastic in my garden,” states Andy, adding that the Masaka Dioceses later signed over a land to carry out their work.

Andy and Co. have come a long way from 2 tons of plastic in a month with two staff members to today, where they have 13 full-time staff, 25 part-time staff and collect 20 tons of plastic a month!

So what exactly are Eco Brixs? Eco Brixs construction materials are made from a secret sand and plastic composite mix.

According to Andy, it took a lot of trial and error to find a mix that uses all types of plastic, has a higher compressive strength than concrete, is lighter and also cheaper than their concrete competition.

“Our product can be used for paving any surface, industrial, household, public spaces and the mix is adaptable. We are now innovating various other products for the construction industry,” he adds. The team has also developed their own closed-loop processing systems turning waste plastic into a variety of marketable items such as face masks, fence posts, chairs, bowls, to name a few.

Plastic pollution is a problem, and we all know it. According to a research in Uganda, in 2015, around 600 tons of plastic was being illegally burnt or discarded at landfill sites every day. And this number would have only increased, considering several companies are increasing their bottling capacity. “Household consumption of plastic varies hugely across the country, with the more urban settings using lots more plastic than villages. But one consistency throughout is that there are no proper waste management systems to handle even 5% of this plastic waste,” states Andy.

But all is not lost. According to Andy, since its inception, Eco Brixs has seen an increase in plastic collection.

“We have focused on two key areas. ‘Motivation’. By buying every kg of plastic we receive, we tap into the biggest motivator in the world – money. And with 80% of the youth in Uganda unemployed, the value chain economy we have created, through recycling, provides valuable income opportunities to thousands of people a month. But motivation isn’t enough and that is why we also make it ‘Convenient’. We have built 25 community collection centres in markets and trading centres throughout Masaka City and the region. This allows people to recycle and earn with minimal change to their normal routines. As they shop at the market, they can recycle and earn extra income for their veggies,” he says.

So where to from here?

“In 2021, we are confident we will have finalised creating a sustainable closed-loop system that we will be able to replicate across Uganda. We want to see the five major districts outside of Kampala having an Eco Brixs closed-loop system in operation within 5 years,” chimes Andy.