Plastic Houses in EthiopiaA new company called Kubik has developed a smart and ecological way to help build affordable plastic houses in Ethiopia and Africa more broadly. Kubik uses recycled plastic waste to create more sustainable and inexpensive building materials that can be used to create homes, schools, factories and more. Kubik recently received a combined investment of $3.34 million to expand their plastic houses business into Ethiopia, where there exists an enormous housing crisis. Hence, Kubik has the potential to go a long way in helping alleviate the housing crisis in Ethiopia and beyond while at the same time helping to create a more sustainable and ecological way of living. 

The Housing Crisis in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, like much of Africa, is facing rapid urbanization, which means that populations in large cities like Addis Abbas are growing at high rates. At the same time, as more and more people move into cities, there is an increasing demand for housing in these cities because people need to find a place to live. 

However, in Ethiopia, the rate at which people are moving into large cities per year far exceeds the rate at which new affordable houses are being built. More specifically, the housing demand is currently estimated to be more than 1 million in Ethiopia with current rates projecting an estimated net of 200,000 more houses needed each year to account for the growing population. Because of this, there is an ongoing housing crisis in which many people are forced to live in small government-owned houses made of mud and wood that leave people susceptible to dangerous diseases and other health problems or in some cases, force people into homelessness. 

Kubik’s Solution

Started by Kidus Asfaw and Penda Marre after seeing how school classrooms were made from plastic materials in Côte d’Ivoire, Kubik was initially founded with the intention of helping create more classrooms in Côte d’Ivoire. However, after seeing the potential that plastic had to be used as a building material, Afshaw and Marre soon shifted the focus of Kubik to providing cheap building materials that could be used to build affordable plastic houses and other important infrastructure such as public bathrooms, schools and eco-friendly factories. 

More specifically, Kubik accomplishes this goal by selling the plastic building materials it makes to real estate developers who use its plastic building materials to build houses at a less expensive cost. In fact, plastic building bricks are often around 40% cheaper than cement of which most ordinary housing bricks are made. 

Ecological Benefit

Although the primary benefit of Kubik’s plastic building materials is its ability to provide more affordable houses in places that urgently need them, they also offer a number of ecological benefits that contribute to protecting the planet as well as improving people’s overall health. First, Kubik’s plastic building materials emit approximately 500% less carbon dioxide than traditional building materials such as cement. Hence, houses made from Kubik’s plastic materials will help significantly in the effort to halt global warming. 

Additionally, Kubik is helping contribute to solving a significant plastic waste problem that is present in many African countries including Ethiopia which produces almost 400,000 tons of plastic waste annually. However, 96% of existing plastic waste does not get recycled. Not only can large amounts of plastic waste significantly disrupt ecosystems and harm marine animals, but because plastic takes so long to decay, plastic waste is often burned to release incredibly harmful chemicals into the air that can cause numerous associated health risks including respiratory problems. 

Kubik helps to reduce the amount of plastic waste and the problems associated with it by focusing on solely using plastics that would not otherwise be made into recyclable products in the production of their building materials. 


Ethiopia faces an ongoing affordable housing crisis as well as a crisis in the rapidly increasing build-up of plastic waste that can damage the environment and people’s health. Although Kubik cannot completely solve either of these two issues alone, the efforts go a long way in mitigating the effects of both by providing an innovative and creative way to turn unused plastic waste into materials used to make affordable plastic houses in Ethiopia. Furthermore, Kubik may serve as an inspiration to future entrepreneurs to develop creative methods that will help solve societal problems such as affordable housing and excessive plastic waste. 

– Athan Yanos
Photo: Unsplash

Plastic Pollution in Ghana
Plastic pollution in Ghana is a serious threat to the welfare of millions. About 91.5% of all plastic waste produced in Ghana isn’t recycled, instead washing up on shorelines or ending up in landfills. Several companies are trying to change this. New initiatives are being integrated into Ghana’s infrastructure in order to alleviate some of the challenges facing many of the country’s poorest residents. Here are some of the companies fighting plastic pollution in the West African nation. 


Norfund, a Norwegian, government-owned investment fund, is an organization designed to aid developing nations with vital investments to lower poverty rates. The Norfund Act of 1997 highlights the purpose of “developing sustainable business and industry in developing countries by providing equity capital.” 

In July 2023, Norfund created a $10.5 million plan to support the recycling capacity of Miniplast Ghana, one of the leading plastic manufacturers in Ghana since 1988. Miniplast, based in the capital of Accra, will receive the highest quality machinery to upgrade its recycling capacity from around 1,300 tonnes a month to 1,700.

Miniplast manufactures many unique industrial and household products from plastics. A newly developed in-house recycling operation sources local plastic waste to be used in these products, turning otherwise polluting material into items such as chairs and tables for local schools. 

This is not the first investment Norfund has made with Miniplast, Empower New Energy was able to install solar energy plans in their factory due to the investment fund. An approximated 15,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide will be reduced from Ghana’s emissions over the next 30 years, providing environmental support to thousands of the most vulnerable. 

According to Norfund, the plan aims to create more than 850 jobs not only for Miniplast but across the whole chain of plastic manufacturing and trade, helping to prevent further plastic pollution in Ghana whilst also giving employment to people who need it.


Coliba Ghana is a company set up in 2016 by Prince Agbata to help reduce plastic pollution. Through a partnership with One Young World, Coliba was able to successfully gain a partnership with a division of Coca-Cola in West Africa, securing investment for 200 plastic recycling centers in Ghana — 40 of which have already been built. 

A key component of Coliba’s strategy to reduce plastic pollution is the Coliba 2.0 mobile app, a service designed to make recycling for business and public sector institutions far easier. The plastic waste generated from these sites is collected by “Coliba Rangers,” workers trained extensively in sustainability, not only providing people in Ghana with successful careers but also a great education on the risks of pollution to welfare. 

Another of Coliba’s main goals is to begin operations on processing plants that can produce higher quality plastic from recycled materials, ensuring that the products used can continue to be recycled many times in the system. 

Maame Abena, a Coliba Ranger, highlighted how his role at Coliba has enabled him to gain financial freedom. He stated “Coliba’s arrival has brought huge change in my work. Now the type of plastic that I could sell I can now sell for more money. This also has allowed me to get enough money to cater for my family.”

Blue Skies Holdings

Blue Skies Holdings is a U.K.-based fruit and dairy company that, in April 2023, set out a plan of five shortlisted solutions to help mitigate the effects of plastic pollution in Ghana. 

The initiative is called FRESHPPACT, and the objective is to utilize several innovations to reduce plastic usage, such as biodegradable workwear, plant-based polymers to be used in packaging and coconut coir mulch in agriculture. 

From the five finalists, the solutions best equipped to aid Ghana’s problem will receive up to £200,000 to implement their products into the market. All of these individual companies have tested their products in the rural communities of the nation, ensuring that their product is directly aiding the people who will need it the most. 

Blue Skies’ commitments fall in line with the U.N. Global Goals, with its main focus on eradicating poverty. In its 2021 blueprint, the company stated that it will attempt to achieve zero poverty by protecting human rights, investing in the foundation of countries such as Ghana and ensuring health and safety. According to the blueprint, a report of the social value of its work in Ghana in 2021 alone generated $11.5 million of value — $2.4 million of which directly impacted their goal of zero poverty. 

There are a multitude of businesses that are aiming to decrease the amount of plastic pollution in Ghana. The hidden risks of this form of pollution to the poverty-stricken are incredibly high, increasing risks of cholera outbreaks and poorer living conditions. However, with the aid of companies across the globe, and vital waste collectors in urban areas, there is hope that this issue can bring forward better environmental stability and a better, brighter economy. 

– Oliver Rayner
Photo: Flickr

The creative economy encompasses a wide range of goods and services created through imagination and intellect, such as novels, art installations and theatrical performances. It is a significant global industry, generating more than $2,250 billion in annual revenues and employing more than 50 million people worldwide. However, these figures may underestimate the sector’s true impact, especially in the digital domain. These art forms not only inspire but also have a meaningful impact. For example, artists around the world are using their creativity to address plastic pollution in the Global South.

Global Plastic Pollution

Unlike noise, chemical and light pollution, the effect of human overconsumption is impossible to ignore because of its visual nature. The majority of plastic packaging ever produced still accumulates in landfills and bodies of water, with only 9% being recycled. In the past decade, This overabundance of plastic has reached a tipping point, disproportionately affecting the world’s poor. As a result, 218 million people are at a higher risk of flooding due to blocked waterways caused by plastic waste. This equates to 3% of the global population, surpassing the populations of the U.K., Germany and France combined.

Mismanaged plastic waste does not only degrade flood mitigation efforts; the blockage of drainage systems contributes to a higher prevalence of water-borne diseases in slums, coastal communities and small-island developing states.

Artists worldwide are drawing attention to the pressing issue of plastic pollution through their creative expressions, amplifying underrepresented opinions, showcasing skilled craftsmanship and supporting local economies.

Creative Criticism in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese performance artist Junior Mungongu has gained international recognition for his bold statements at a recent exhibition during the KinAct Festival in Kinshasa. The capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to grapple with plastic waste management. The urban art display, established in 2015, aims to encourage social criticism and alternative forms of protest. Last year, Mungongu wore a full-body suit made entirely of plastic bottles and caps, urging passersby to twist the tops back on.

A Jamaican Perspective on the Impacts of Single-Use Plastic

In Jamaica, Travis Hunter has made a name for himself for making masterpieces from recycled plastic. Displayed in his front yard, Travis Hunter’s work has gained considerable notoriety in Gregory Park, Portmore. Hunter founded Travis Arts Jamaica in 2018, promoting an environmentally sustainable creative venture. A sculptor and painter by profession, he has managed to earn an income from building tables, benches and flower pots made out of plastic bottles, newspaper and styrofoam.

Kenyan Artistry for Environmental Stewardship

Vivian Oluoch founded Avianna Eco Arts and Decor Foundation to fight plastic pollution and empower female artists in Homa Bay. The home decor and handbag storefront uses old wine bottles and plastic trash to create marketable art. The effort is largely backed by women from the slums surrounding Shauri Yako Estate, who have profited from plastic crafts since 2020.

Vivian Oluoch established the Avianna Eco Arts and Decor Foundation in Homa Bay, Kenya, to combat plastic pollution and empower female artists. Its home decor and handbag storefront utilizes old wine bottles and plastic trash to create marketable art. This effort is primarily supported by women from the slums surrounding Shauri Yako Estate, who have been profiting from plastic crafts since 2020.

Catadores Clean Up Belo Horizonte Streets for a Cause

ASMARE is a collective of garbage collectors in Brazil that has established livelihoods for the homeless by selling art made of discarded plastics, tires and cardboard boxes for 33 years. It is comprised of almost 200 official employees. The group sells chairs, chandeliers and decorative figurines fashioned of what most would consider trash that litters nearby community spaces.

In the face of adversity, some of the world’s most marginalized populations have demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness. Plastic pollution in the Global South presents a significant untapped source of revenue, fostering sustainability and stimulating the creative economy.

Avery Pearson
Photo: Unsplash

Waste Collectors in the Philippines
Informal waste collectors in the city of Puerto Princesa in the Philippines, in collaboration with the Eco-Kolek initiative by Project Zacchaeus (PZC), are developing a safer, more organized method of waste collection and disposal for their community. The Eco-Kolek project allows waste collectors to voice themselves and become more involved in their local communities.

Plastic and Poverty in the Philippines

Single-use plastic products are low-cost and easy to produce; the high production rate of single-use plastics in the Philippines has led to a large percentage of plastic pollution coming from the country. The Philippines produces 2.7 million tons of plastic waste annually and roughly 20% of it pollutes the ocean. As a nation of more than 7,500 islands, the coastal areas of the country are especially susceptible to the negative impacts of ocean plastic pollution.

Recent data shows that about 23.7% of Filipinos lived under the poverty threshold in the first quarter of 2021 while about 10% lived in extreme poverty, unable to meet their basic food needs. Because single-use plastics are an inexpensive way to purchase everyday necessities, like soap and toothpaste, impoverished communities produce and purchase these plastics in abundance.

Project Zacchaeus and Eco-Kolek

Project Zacchaeus is a social enterprise in the Philippines that develops specialized products and services and trains local citizens to become “servant leaders” in their communities. The organization focuses on communities in need and tailors strategies that aim to alleviate poverty in each area.

Eco-Kolek is an initiative of Project Zacchaeus that educates and provides relevant resources to waste collectors. The project’s goal is to bring a sense of safety and organization to the practice of waste collection and to elevate waste collectors in the Philippines to “Eco-Warriors” and community leaders. The program takes place in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan in the Philippines to “help bridge the gaps of waste management.”

How Eco-Kolek Helps Locals Improve Waste Collection

Women make up a large number of informal waste collectors around the world. In the Philippines, women commonly turn to waste collection to earn extra income for their families. In Puerto Princesa, local women hold many leadership roles in waste management.

A waste collector gathers improperly disposed waste and sells it to collectors for a profit. Through the help of Eco-Kolek, the Eco-Warriors can earn an income by learning other relevant skills, such as bookkeeping. With the help of the Eco-Kolek program, the waste collection has become more than just a job — it has become a way to practice and improve leadership skills and become active voices in the community. The Eco-Warriors have become integral to curbing plastic pollution in Puerto Princesa.

In March 2022, USAID’s Clean Cities, Blue Ocean program provided the Eco-Warriors with vehicles to make waste collection more efficient. The agency donated “five bicycles, two motorcycles with sidecars and one four-wheeled multi-cab” to the Eco-Kolek program. These vehicles will help the waste collectors reach about “3,000 households in Puerto Princesa.” The Eco-Warriors who will drive the vehicles will also receive free training and courses on driving and vehicle maintenance.

Eco-Kolek aims to reduce ocean plastic pollution by helping waste collectors in Puerto Princesa maintain a more efficient and sustainable method of waste collection. The program professionalizes the job of waste collecting by making it safer and more organized. Eco-Warriors receive education on waste disposal laws and how to most safely dispose of solid waste. Eco-Kolek provides the resources for local waste collectors to unite and more effectively help themselves and their community.

– Melissa Hood
Photo: Flickr

Plastic into Protein Powder
A team of biologists, chemists and engineers have developed technology that can turn plastic into protein powder. The team is aiming to create a system that can help solve two of the world’s most pressing problems: hunger and plastic pollution.


The title of the plastic to protein powder project is BioPROTEIN (Biological Plastic Reuse by Olefin and Ester Transforming Engineered Isolates and Natural Consortia). Assistant professor of biological sciences at Michigan Tech, Stephen Techtmann, leads the team behind this project. The team includes Ting Lu, professor in bioengineering from the University of Illinois, Rebecca Ong, assistant professor of chemical engineering at MTU, David Shonnard, professor of chemical engineering and Joshua Pearce, electrical and computer engineer.

The process of turning plastic into protein powder begins by putting plastic material into a reactor that breaks down the structure of the plastic and transforms it “into an oily substance.” Bacteria then consume this substance and multiply speedily, creating “more bacteria cells, which are about 55% protein.” According to Techtmann, “the end result” looks similar to “a yeast byproduct that comes from brewing beer.” The scientists then dry out this byproduct, leading to the creation of an edible protein powder.

Plastic Pollution and Poverty

Plastic is a very durable substance; it can take hundreds of years to break down ‌after humans discard it. Most plastics become microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic material that scientists have found nearly everywhere, including in human organs.

Humans have created approximately seven billion tons of plastic products and have recycled less than 10% of them. Humans produce about 330 million tons of plastic waste annually. Approximately 50% of all plastic goes toward the making of single-use products, which means humans use these plastic products for one purpose and then discard them.

The effects of plastic pollution are harshest for developing countries, which have the least capability to handle the consequences. The most impoverished countries have the least developed and most mismanaged waste management programs. Ways that poor waste management, including plastic, negatively affects peoples’ health and livelihoods include:

  • Waste blocks waterways, leading to the development of more waterborne illnesses.
  • Waste buildup becomes a breeding ground for disease-carrying organisms.
  • The burning of waste releases pollutants into the air that harm people.
  • Mismanagement of waste creates informal dump sites that are hazardous to traverse and can lead to mudslides.
  • Waste buildup pollutes water and soil that people use for drinking and cultivation.
  • Animals consume waste, which causes livestock mortality or illness.

Hunger and Poverty

Although the overall rate of hunger worldwide has reduced since 2000, it has been steadily rising since 2014, with a predicted spike because of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 750 million people in the world experienced severe food insecurity in 2019.

Even more extreme than the lack of access to food for people experiencing extreme poverty is the lack of ability to maintain a healthy diet. A healthy diet is about five times more costly than diets that meet basic energy requirements “through a starchy staple” and far exceeds the amount of money people earn while living under the international poverty line.

Goals of BioPROTEIN

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initially financed the BioPROTEIN project with funding of up to $7.2 million. The first idea behind the project was that military forces could use a plastic-to-protein powder machine that will fit in the back of a military vehicle and can turn plastic waste into a food source when out in remote areas.

However, the team wants to develop beyond this goal; Techtmann wants nonprofits and communities around the globe that are experiencing food poverty to have access to BioPROTEIN machines. He hopes the invention will turn into a solution that can help impoverished communities manage plastic waste while addressing food insecurity.

– Melissa Hood
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Water Pollution in IndiaIndia is infamous for its heavily polluted air. However, with up to 80% of its water contaminated, water pollution in India is just as prevalent and dangerous. Polluted waterways affect the standard of living of many Indian families, especially those within impoverished communities. Additionally, contaminated water creates unsustainable environments for aquatic life. Toxic waste such as discarded plastic and domestic sewage is damaging the fishing industry, which makes up a large portion of India’s economy. In an effort to combat water pollution, the Indian state of Kerala has started an initiative to recycle ocean plastic into materials for road construction, saving the jobs of fishermen and protecting the environment.

Water Pollution’s Impact on Livelihoods

Urban areas in India generate approximately 62,000 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage water. With the capacity to only treat 23,277 MLD, more than 70% of the sewage in urban areas does not receive treatment. The untreated waste often ends up in nearby water bodies such as the River Ganges, one of 10 rivers accounting for “90% of the plastic pollution that ends up at sea.”

Because of the water pollution, India’s rivers are in a dire state and citizens suffer health and economic impacts. The pollutants entering the water leave it contaminated and unsafe to consume. In 2018, more than 163 million people in India did not have a source of safe drinking water, leading to people relying on rivers for drinking water.

The polluted water also affects the fish that rely on healthy bacteria to survive. As a result, incidents of mass fish deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. Without fish in India’s waterways, millions of people will be out of work. As of 2020, India ranks third globally in fishery production and the fishing industry employs more than 145 million people.

Small-scale fisheries, which supply 55% of the total fish production, are critical for reducing poverty and food scarcity in local communities. Freshwater fisheries also help improve water quality and soil conditions on land, positively aiding agriculture. For this reason, water pollution in India is harmful to the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

Repurposing Plastic Pollution

Concerned for their futures, fishermen in Kerala, India, are taking part in an environmental initiative to keep their waters clean. In 2017, the local government put out an order to minimize water pollution. Fishermen in Kerala have answered the call. Kerala relies substantially on the fishing industry, which brings in approximately $14 million in revenue.

The government passed the Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) project, requiring harbor authorities to distribute nylon bags to fishermen so that they can store the plastic pollution that gets caught in their nets instead of throwing it back into the sea. Construction companies buy the collected plastic in shredded form and use it to build new roads. Cleaning and sorting the gathered plastic provides jobs to local women in Kerala.

When mixed with asphalt, the plastic component makes India’s roads more resistant to intense heat. In addition to helping the environment, the process is saving India money by reducing the cost of building roads by “8–10% per kilometer of road paved with plastic as compared with a conventionally built road.” Every kilometer of road utilizes about 1 million plastic bags. As of April 2021, the project has collected about 176,000 pounds of plastic and has built 135 kilometers of road, creating many employment opportunities in the process.

Fighting Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Properly developed roads contribute to economic growth. By building and maintaining roads to rural communities, India can ensure the economic development of these areas. Roads to rural communities improve access to education and reduce costs for transportation, trade and production. However, funding for rural infrastructure is usually low on the list of budgetary priorities for the Indian government. Repurposing ocean plastic for use in building materials reduces the cost of roads while simultaneously combating water pollution in India, thus reducing poverty overall.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Plastic Pollution and Poverty in the SundarbansFrom space, the “Beautiful Forest,” or the Sundarbans, looks like a dreamscape — dark mangrove forests nestled among a lacy lattice of luminous streams that snake into the Bay of Bengal. Zooming closer reveals grimmer realities. The Sundarbans are a part of the world’s largest delta, the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, covering most of Bangladesh and large amounts of West Bengal in India. Home to more than 100 million people, it is one of the most densely populated regions globally and faces extreme poverty and plastic pollution.

Fringed by the large arc of the Bay of Bengal, the coastal population here relies on the ocean, upstream rivers, rich delta soils, monsoons and mangrove forests for its livelihood. Primary industries are marine and freshwater fishing, rice farming and tourism. Life here teeters on a fragile balance with nature. Annual monsoons cause floods and rising ocean levels threaten to submerge the lands. However, they also bring fertility and rich aquatic life that are vital to the livelihood of millions.

A particularly grave human-made threat to this delicate coastal ecosystem is plastics. Plastics pour into the bay from upstream rivers and neighboring areas and choke the coastal lands with the locally generated waste.

Impact of Plastic Pollution in the Sundarbans

The plastic in the food supply chain gravely impacts the fishery industry of the delta region, as evident in its clogged mangroves and plastic-choked fish farms. Plastic also pollutes the population’s primary food source: fish and other aquatic life. As plastics disintegrate into fundamental particles, they make their way into the biota and eventually into humans, causing many health issues.

The area’s waste-blanketed beaches also deter tourism. Accumulations of plastic mar beautiful coastlines due to poor infrastructure and waste management.

Additionally, increasing plastic use by ever-growing populations depletes natural resources and poisons life-giving food sources. This creates conditions for poverty and unsustainable living in the Sundarbans. Reducing plastic accumulation in the ocean and coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal is critical and needing concerted, multi-pronged actions.

Addressing the Plastic Pollution Issues at the Source

Measuring and identifying pollution problems upstream, as with the National Geographic-led Ganges Sea to Source Expedition project, will be vital to deploying preventive solutions closer to their source. Projects such as this one seek to understand the plastics’ journey in the river, tracking the patterns, volumes and trajectory into the ocean. The Ganges, one of the world’s largest rivers, is a principal source of water into the Bay of Bengal and a principal source of its plastics. The Ganges and two other rivers are estimated to empty one to three billion microplastics into the Bay of Bengal each day.

Waste Management Programs

Waste management programs to reduce plastic in the ocean and neighboring coastlines are critical in this fight against poverty and plastic pollution. Such programs can include installing waterway bins and collectors in the bay and plastic collection programs in coastal areas. Such programs have the added benefit of employing local labor in building these infrastructures. However, solutions such as installing obstructive bins in the ocean have their limitations. A push to longer-term restructuring and design will be necessary while relying on short-term solutions.

Awareness and Innovative Products

Large-scale education campaigns on anti-littering and plastic-use awareness are also crucial to addressing current pollution challenges. Encouraging reuse, responsible disposal of wastes and moving to environment-friendly alternatives in daily life can help slow the current plastic pollution rates.

In the long term, establishing programs that focus on bio-friendly products and innovations offers the best route out of the current predicament. Boosting programs and research in topics that rethink current practices and modes of plastic-dependent systems can also stimulate the local economy and employment while generating viable solutions. Levying taxes to deter plastic use should also be considered within a broader governance and policy framework.

As gloomy as the Sundarbans’ current pollution circumstances seem, there are many paths to reversing plastic’s impacts in the Bay of Bengal while boosting labor in local populations with innovation, research and collective action.

– Mala Rajamani
Photo: Flickr