From waste to wealth: Her innovative business model

Tuesday March 31 2020

 

By Elizabeth Tungaraza

Green entrepreneurship is the way to go in efforts to save the environment. This is why Hellen Silas, an entrepreneur has decided to create a business model with consideration to preserving the environment. Silas, 24, is the founder and Director of Arena Recycling Industry, a company which creates building materials from plastic waste.

Though she holds an Advanced Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology from Kam College of Health Science, she has been recycling plastic waste into buildings materials since 2018. She engages in collecting plastic waste and then uses it as a key resource in the production of eco-bricks. The eco-bricks are used in the construction of houses, toilets and other structures.

“We work directly with plastic waste collectors to create a sustainable partnership. In fact, we involve community recyclers as part of our logistics in a bid to improve the livelihood of those who are vulnerable. We love the environment and our passion is to see it free of plastic waste. I started this business because I tired of seeing lots of plastic in the beaches and thus came up with a productive way to improve and protect the environment,” she says

Success Magazine interviewed her about her project

How did you come up with the idea?

It came when I was volunteering in one organisation called PHEDES (Psychosocial health and entrepreneurship development skills). I was working in the entrepreneurship department whereby we used to sew clothes for brides and grooms and then help them find a location for a photoshoot which was mostly the beach. We found a lots of trash including plastic waste at the beach and that made me eager to find a solution.

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I started doing research on waste management through the internet and found that you can turn plastic waste into many useful products like oil, petrol, kerosene and building materials. I then started experimenting at home but failed. After seven attempts I made it.

Tell us about what you do

I make eco-bricks, a durable building material made from plastic that is two times durable compared to the common bricks (cement) because it has ant-fungal and anti-corrosive properties.

How long does it take to convert the plastic, and how many bricks can you make in a day?

We do not yet do mass production but we can make 200 bricks a day, and it take 7 hours

Why did you choose plastics?

I chose plastic waste because it has a big negative impact in society, first as it takes hundreds of years to decompose. UNEP estimates that by 2050 the ocean will have more plastic than fish.

Are the bricks that contain waste plastic strong enough for home construction?

Yes, we mix plastic with sand – plastic is made up of polymers which are highly intact when merged with sand. The bricks have already been tested in the laboratory and the results have shown that they are very durable.

How long can they last once they are used in a structure?

A lifetime because of plastic material.

Tell us about the fortification process

Each Eco-brick has a protrusion at one end and a depression at the other end which enables them to fit perfectly like jigsaw puzzles. Each brick is designed to have vertical holes which means, not only saving the number of materials used in its production but allowing metal rods to be inserted or cement to be filled in to increase strength during construction.

How much plastic waste have you been able to collect since you started your business?

Currently, we have been able to collect more than 1000 tons of plastic waste ever since we started.

Tell us about the recycling process

First, we collect the plastic waste then it is sort according to density. We then crush them into small granules by using a machine called shredder.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Let us be conscious and care for our environment by raising awareness about plastic waste We can also add value to waste by turning them into useful products.

What was the impression when you first got into this business? Where customer welcoming?

It was difficult at first, this is mainly because not too many people understood the concept of using plastic to make building materials. But with time they got on board.

What has been your biggest challenge?

I’m operating the factory from where I built a small factory. I now need a bigger space and machinery which can accommodate mass-production but also have the factory far away from people.

What is your biggest success up until now?

Up to now, we have been able to get some grants and currently, we are working with US embassy in Tanzania in a project of constructing pit latrines in primary schools located at Temeke districts.

I have also had the privilege of being selected in a fellowship ‘Young Water Fellowship’ which enables youth to acquire business skills through training in countries like Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Belgium.

What one thing do you want to see changed in today’s society?

I would improve environmental policies to provide a framework to improve waste management, stimulate innovation in separate waste collection and recycling, limit the use of landfill and create incentives to change consumer behavior.

I would also change our education system and make it more practical and curated to one’s career ambitions. Most students lose their way along their academic journey due to little understanding of what they want to do in their adulthood.

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