Turning plastic waste into pavement blocks

5/29/2018 1:17:03 PM

Nelson Boateng from Ghana has found a new way of dealing with the growing problem of plastic waste. While each year approximately 380 billion plastic bags are manufactured globally and only 7 percent of them are recycled, the Ghana entrepreneur has developed a production process to turn plastic bags and other waste products into stone-like pavement blocks. Ghana’s minister of Environment personally checked the production process and now recommends the use of the product all over the country.

Plastics are inexpensive and durable. However, the chemical structure of most plastics renders them resistant to many natural processes of degradation. As a result, they are slow to degrade. Since the 1950s, an estimated 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% of plastic waste has been incinerated. The rest is still out there, in cities and forests. Large concentrations are found in the earth’s oceans (‘plastic soup’). While an increasing number of countries has decided to ban free distribution of plastic bags, Ghanaian entrepreneur Nelson Boateng has found a new way of recycling.

Alternative to asphalt

His company, Nelplast Ghana Limited is creating a useful alternative to asphalt to pave new roads using a significant amount of discarded plastic. Nelplast, specialised in industrial processing with an ecological slant has been successful in turning plastic garbage into stone-like pavement blocks, that can be used to build new roads.

Building on over twenty years of experience in the recycling industry, he developed a process that is both simple and effective. First, he brings kilos of discarded bags and other products made of plastic into a large shredding machine. Out of the machines comes a load of fine threads, ready for the next steps in the process. Boateng mixes the shreddings with ordinary sand, using very little binding agent. At the end of the production line, is a flat building block that can be used for several purposes, like paving roads, sidewalks, porches and carports.

60 per cent plastic, 40 per cent sand

The blocks are a cheap and sustainable alternative to traditional asphalt. The product is made up of 60 per cent plastic and 40 per cent sand, and is about 800 per cent stronger than the ordinary pavement blocks. The product that Nelplast now produces in large quantities is a hit in Ghana, as it has proven to be strong and durable enough to last a lifetime. The blocks have been utilised in different projects, such as a road construction project for a route with heavy truck traffic – in which the block perform very well. “The block does not break and does not wear out”, Nelson Boateng adds.

Embraced innovation

The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) has embraced an innovation. Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Minister of MESTI, personally visited Nelplasts’ Accra factory for a demonstration of the durability, uses and benefits of the product. According to a news reports by Ghana News Agency (GNA), he said the government was “committed to supporting any forms of models that would help in achieving its vision of ensuring a clean environment as well as its cities and would therefore engage the company further to discuss how best to support this laudable invention for expansion.”

Increase scale? Investors welcome

Nelson Boateng is happy with the endorsement. “Now that we have a proven concept and a product that performs in everyday practice, we have to see where the future takes us. Until now we have provided the product to the local community for free. It is a way to give something back to the society that we are part of. We produce small quantities; I would like to increase the scale of production, but until now we lack proper funding for that. Because of that, we have to turn the hundreds of plastics collectors away with their plastics waste - because we simply can't pay them. Looking forward, I’d like to stress that solid and trustworthy investors are welcome to discuss the options.”

Photo credits: Nelplast Ghana

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