Photo courtesy of UNEP

Kenya scored big at the inaugural Afri-Plastics Summit & Awards ceremony when five out of a total nine start-ups scooped £2M as part of the Afri-Plastics Challenge, a continent-wide plastics innovation challenge worth £4.1M.

The awards were the culmination of a four-year initiative designed by Challenge Works and funded by Global Affairs Canada to recognise trailblasing innovators that are tackling the global plastics problem and protecting the ocean. Out of the 9 shortlisted start-ups, five were women-led, and two from Kenya winning a total of £500,000, demonstrating the role women play in designing sustainable innovative solutions that benefit communities.

Speaking at the Awards ceremony, Principal Secretary, State Department of Environment and Climate Change Eng. Festus K. Ng'eno, said  “In Kenya, 37,000 metric tonnes of plastic get into the Indian ocean annually causing devastating disruption in our marine ecosystem. 

He added, "As a Ministry, we have invested heavily in both policies and law enforcement to win the fight against plastic pollution. We have banned the manufacturing, retailing, distribution and importation of plastic carrier and flat bags for commercial or household use since 2017; in 2019 we also prohibited their use in protected areas."

"To guide the country’s transition to a green growth and circular economy pathway, we implemented the Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan (2016-2030), as well as The Sustainable Waste Management Act 2022. These investments have strengthened Kenya’s position globally as an environmental steward and we are excited to see that other African countries have taken similar commitments against plastics," he explained.

Christopher Thornley, Canada’s High Commissioner in Nairobi said: “Plastic pollution is an issue that affects everyone. Plastics that make their way into the marine ecosystem are just as damaging whether they originated in Mombasa or Montreal, Lagos or London. The winners of the Afri-Plastics Challenge show there is a way forward for establishing a successful circular economy for plastic waste, with innovations capable of changing how we all use and dispose of plastic – not only in Africa but around the world.”

Jonathan Slater, International Development Director, Challenge Works said: “During this groundbreaking Afri-Plastic Summit and Awards we have brought together leaders, innovators, policymakers, and entrepreneurs from all corners of the African continent with the aim to foster collaboration and develop innovative, sustainable solutions to tackle plastic pollution in Africa and beyond.”

He concluded, “We are also incredibly grateful to all the partners that made the Afri-plastics Challenge a success, the initiative provided a unique opportunity to create lasting change and forge a sustainable, plastic-free future for Africa. We are proud of all the innovators who participated and look forward to seeing the impact that those who won more than £4 million will have; from doubling recycling rates to providing new sources of income for families, pioneering companies converting invasive plants in Lake Victoria into biodegradable materials and businesses creating affordable cooking gas from trash.” 

Winners of the Afri-Plastic Challenge are: 

£1 million was awarded to Togo’s Green Industry Plast (GIP-TOGO) – a recycling business that helps households earn a living through waste plastic collection. GIP-TOGO then sorts, shreds, cleans and bags the shredded plastic to be used again, including in ecological paving slabs. 

Kenya’s Chemolex won £750,000 to scale production of Biopactic, a biodegradable alternative to plastic made from invasive water hyacinths that grow aggressively in Lake Victoria. The next generation material can completely replace single use plastic in food and product packaging – not only reducing plastic pollution, but dealing with an invasive plant impacting Kenya’s marine ecosystem too. 

£500,000 was won by Mega Gas in Kenya which converts waste plastic into affordable cooking gas for people living on less than US$1 a day. It uses a thermal cracking process that creates no emissions, residue or pollution to turn plastic pollution, such as polythene, into a fuel for rural families. 

Chanja Datti (Nigeria) awarded £750,000 –a woman-led  business based in Abuja, it converts collected recyclable waste into commercially viable products. It collects, sorts and bails plastic before selling it on to manufacturers. 

EcoCoCo Homecare (Kenya) awarded £250,000 a woman-led  that has developed alternatives to plastic homeware products that use fibres from coconut husks left over from coconut oil production, including scouring pads, scrubbing brushes and brooms. 

Toto Safi (Rwanda) – awarded £100,000 – a a woman-led diapers-on-demand service which makes sustainable cloth diapers a realistic alternative to single-use plastic-based nappies. Through its app, parents can order clean and sterilised nappies at an affordable cost, while used nappies are taken away to be cleaned. 

Catharina Natang (Cameroon) awarded £250,000 a woman-led business training fashion designers in Africa to make sustainable choices in the textiles they use and understand plant-based alternatives to polymer-based materials. 

Ukwenza VR (Kenya) awarded £250,000 uses virtual reality to explain the journey of a piece of plastic after it is dumped, including the damage it does to local environments, to persuade people to make different choices around plastic consumption and disposal. 

Baus Taka Enterprise (Kenya) awarded £250,000 a woman-led business that developed a mobile app to encourage people to segregate their plastic waste – through competitions it offers cash rewards and points that can be redeemed for medical services in partnership with health clinics. 

The successful innovations developed through the Afri-Plastics Challenge have paved the way to revolutionise Africa’s approach to reducing reliance on plastic. They are also supporting the empowerment of women and girls by creating economic opportunities for women. 60% of entries that made it to the final 40 were women-led. 

Innovators focused on recycling solutions reported a 113% increase in monthly collecting and processing during the prize. In the long-term, the development and scaling of the innovators’ solutions will lead to the creation of new, sustainable local enterprises, creating alternatives to single-use plastics and improving collection and processing of waste.

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