SPOTLIGHT | Trace Recyclers

Producing roof tiles from plastic waste


TRACE has a remarkable history. It started from a social movement that aimed at the elimination of waste in the town of Gil Gil. As a social enterprise for (plastic and glass) garbage collection, they provided tens of jobs for unemployed young people.

Two of their young leaders, Kevin Mureithi and Hope Mwanake, got the chance to pursue their Master’s degree at IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands. Kevin used his IHE period to test the feasibility of making roof tiles from recycled plastic and grinded glass (glass sand). IHE is also where Kevin was introduced to the VIA Water team.

When Kevin and Hope returned to Kenya, the team was very motivated and committed to make a business out of their ideas. Whereas most IHE-alumni return to their country of origin as researcher or manager, these two Masters were insistent in their dream to make something useful out of waste. Their enthusiasm has convinced many people, including the VIA Water team and the South African company Tereco Plastitrade that sold them a second hand production line at a discount price, and provided them with training. Kevin and Hope won several awards and Kevin was among the winners of VIA Water’s first Challenge Group. This provided him with some crucial on-line business training by Africa Funded.

The first 10,000 roof tiles have been produced. Trace had to overcome many challenges, such as import problems and bureaucracy of a foreign donor. To overcome the period without income, they managed to start up a first production line for bricks, based on glass sand. And since the beginning of this year they produce the roof tiles on demand. The production line has a capacity of 4,800 - 14,800 tiles per week, depending on the number of work cycles. Biggest production challenge is electricity supply, because of the unreliability of the central grid and the high power demand.

Entering the market with an almost new product is not easy. The market starts with individuals, but the advantages of the tiles are so big that they have been able to attract the interest of bigger potential buyers, even in the Netherlands. Apart from the ‘eco’ branding, the tile is also attractive because it is less vulnerable to breakage, less heavy, provides insulation and is available in any colour you would like, while the price per square meter is similar to ceramic tiles.

Originally, the production was planned to be based on locally collected street waste. In the meantime, the market for plastic waste has decreased since China has banned foreign importation of plastic, leaving large amounts of plastic to be burned or disposed of unsafely in the environment where it will eventually end up in waterways. Trace now obtains this plastic waste from market agents, contributing to a reduction in plastic waste which might have otherwise polluted valuable water. The plastic bag ban that is in force since early this year has no impact on the supply, as this is another type of plastic.

We had @shaby_abbas from our partners @AquaforAll @viawater test the strength of our #Ecotile. Drop it, jump on it, it does'nt break easily. Put it on your roof and you won't have a leaking roof.

— Mureithi Kevin (@MureithiKevin) May 2, 2018

You can read more about the project on the project page, or visit Trace’s website or Facebook page.