Bricks from plastics? Tanzania knows how to do it

Friday April 10 2020

Hellena Silas, 24, the founder and MD of Arena

Hellena Silas, 24, the founder and MD of Arena Recycling Industry that makes paving brocks from recycles material. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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Hellena Silas is only 24, but she is behind a recycling business that converts plastic waste into building material such as bricks and paving blocks.
Her company, Arena Recycling Industry, has built a plant in Dar es Salaam’s Mwanagati area.

Only last year she completed her Diploma in Medical Laboratory from KAM College of Health Science in Tanzania.

Hellena trained in medical lab technology but is now in producing building materials. What a switch!

Her company employs five people she trained in recycling plastic waste.

While working as an intern at Hindu Mandal Hospital in Dar es Salaam, she wondered how the community could be engaged in managing heaps of plastic waste produced given their consequences.

“Eight million tonnes of plastic is thrown into ocean every year killing marine life and disrupts ecosystems. We at Arena collect plastics and reprocess into building materials. Our bricks are made with plastic polymers as opposed to cement, meaning ours are anti-corrosive, anti-fungal, waterproof, durable and affordable unlike to cement,” she said.


After trawling the Internet how other countries manage their waste, she picked an idea of 3R – recycle, reuse, reduce – and decided to make a business of it.

“After Google and YouTube research discovered that plastic is made of petroleum and through plastic you can produce kerosene, I learn that in plastic there a lot of things and it can be big business,” she says.

“Plastic pollution is not just an ocean issue, It is a climate issue and It's a human health issue. Today between four and eight per cent of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastic. If this reliance on plastic persists, plastic will count for 20 per cent of oil consumption by 2050,” she said.

Hellena says she learnt that the ocean absorbs about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans buffering the impacts of global warming.

“Last month we collected more than 650kg of plastic packaging waste, which Arena will recycle into building eco-bricks,” she said.

She also mention that when you consider that 480 billion bottles were sold in 2018 but less than 50 per cent of these bottles were recycled. That means over 240 billion bottles went into landfills in a single year.

“We are so proudly for adding value on plastic waste, these eco-bricks made from recycled plastic waste with no cement at all, and consist of plastic waste (80 per cent) and 20 per cent sand. Our project tackles two main problems: Plastic pollution, poor water and sanitation,” Hellena said.

Online research helped her discover that through plastic you can produce building materials but the articles they didn’t disclose how to do it. “I spent Tsh100,000 ($43.21) to buy and create stoves from welders and asked them to create something which can heat stuff,” she says.

“I started heating the plastics in an ordinary pot but didn’t get any results for two weeks. My family laughed me off saying plastics cannot be cooked to become bricks,” she recalls.

Training and seminars gave her more ideas and after several trials she managed to get a solid brick. She made different samples and submitted them to the University of Dar es Salaam’s Engineering Department for quality check.

Her bricks were twice as strong and more durable than regular cement bricks. Compressive force for regular bricks was 40 while hers had a compressive force of 80.

She has also received funding from Dar Teknohama Business Incubator under the Commission for Science and Technology under Danish Embassy in Tanzania.

She plans to expand her company across East Africa and beyond.