Côte d’Ivoire: a project transforms plastic into classroom bricks

Over 280 tons of plastic waste products are produced daily just in Abidjan. Only about 5% of that is recycled, and the remainder ends up in landfills located in low-income communities, where the pollution aggravates their hygienic and sanitary conditions. 

Improper management of waste products is responsible for 60% of the cases of malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia in children, diseases that represent the main causes of deaths in the children from Côte d’Ivoire. 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) partnering with the Conceptos Plásticos (Plastic Concepts) Company from Colombia for mitigating the problem has announced the inauguration of a factory that will produce recycled plastic bricks.

Classroom in Sakassou, Côte d’Ivoire. Image: Frank Dejongh / Unicef.

These bricks are easy to assemble, durable, and low priced, and they will be used for building classrooms. The country needs 15 thousand classrooms to supply its needs. The new partnership will use recycled plastic from the polluted areas of Abidjan and surrounding areas to build 500 classrooms for over 25 thousand children. The construction will take place in the next two years, and there is even potential to increase production in the future.

“This factory is at the vanguard of supplying intelligent and scalable solutions for some of the main educational challenges facing children and African communities,” Henrietta Fore, the executive director of Unicef says. “The potential is triplicate: more classrooms for the children in Côte d’Ivoire reducing the plastic waste products in the environment, and a source of additional income for the most economically vulnerable families.” 

+ Up to now, nine classrooms have already been built in Gonzagueville, Divo, and Toumodi using the plastic bricks made in Colombia. 

Aboubacar Kampo, the Unicef representative in the country, confirmed that one of the main challenges faced by Ivorian children is the shortage of classrooms, as the existing ones are overcrowded, making their learning process very challenging and unpleasant. “In certain areas, children for the first time at pre-school age from poor neighborhoods can attend classrooms with fewer than one hundred other students,” reveals Kampo. 

When the factory is completely operating, it will recycle 9.6 tons of plastic waste products yearly. It will also be a source of income for women who are living in poverty. “The initiative will also help women to rise out of their impoverished situation and contribute to making a better world for children,” believes Isabel Cristina Gamez, the cofounder of Conceptos Plásticos. 

Simultaneous to this investment, there are plans underway to introduce this project to other African countries and other continents as well. In Western and Central Africa, a third of school-age elementary school children in the world are located here, and a fifth of middle school children are not attending school. “Sometimes, amid our most pressing challenges that we find the most promising opportunities,” reveals Fore, from Unicef. 

Classes being built at Gonzagueville. Image: Frank Dejongh / Unicef

The bricks will be made from 100% plastic and will be fire-resistant. According to Conceptos Plásticos, these bricks are 40% less expensive, 20% lighter, and provide greater durability, as they will last hundreds of years compared to conventional construction materials. These bricks will also be waterproof, provide good insulation, and they are designed to withstand strong winds.