“This project is a functioning metaphor—the growing challenge of plastic waste turned into literal building blocks for a future generation of children.”Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF. 

UNICEF is preparing to establish an innovative plastic brick making factory in Cote d’Ivoire in partnership with a Colombian social enterprise – Conceptos Plasticos. The factory will be the first of its kind, collecting plastic waste and converting them into modular plastic bricks that will be used to build classrooms for Ivorian children.

According to UNICEF, the West African country needs 15000 classrooms to meet the needs of out of school children. Its partnership with Conceptos Plasticos will help solve this issue starting with 500 classrooms for more than 25000 children with the most urgent need in the next two years and an increased production beyond that. 

“This factory will be at the cutting edge of smart, scalable solutions for some of the major education challenges that Africa’s children and communities face,” said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF. 

The bricks, which are designed to fit together like Lego, will be made from 100 percent melted plastic. They are fire-resistant, 40 percent cheaper, 20 percent lighter than conventional bricks and will last way longer than conventional building materials. They are also waterproof, well insulated and designed to resist heavy wind. It will cost about $14,500 and eight tons of plastic to build each classroom which will take 21 days to set up. 

Dr. Aboubacar Kampo, a UNICEF representative said a major challenge faced by Ivorian children is a lack of classrooms. “They either don’t exist or when they do, they are overcrowded, making learning a challenging and unpleasant experience,” he said. 

Dr. Kampo, who has championed the project from its inception explained that in certain areas, kindergartners from poor neighbourhoods would be able to attend classrooms with less than 100 students for the first time. “Children who never thought there would be a place for them at school will be able to learn and thrive in a new and clean classroom.”

However, the potential of this project extends beyond addressing educational issues for children in Cote d’Ivoire to tackling environmental and economic issues simultaneously by reducing plastic waste and providing income avenues for the most vulnerable families in a formalized recycling market.

“We partnered with UNICEF on this project because we want our business model to have a social impact,” said Isabel Cristina Gamez, Co-Founder and CEO, Conceptos Plasticos. “By turning plastic pollution into an opportunity, we want to help lift women out of poverty and leave a better world for children.”

Over 280 tonnes of plastic waste is produced every day in Abidjan alone. Only about five percent is recycled, the rest mostly ends up in landfill sites in impoverished communities. But once the factory is fully operational, it will recycle 9,600 tonnes of plastic waste annually.

Already, nine classrooms have been built for 450 primary and pre-school children in Gonzaville, Divo and Toumodi with plastic bricks made in Colombia to demonstrate the viability of the construction methods and materials. 

Beyond Côte d’Ivoire, plans are also underway to scale this project to other countries in the region. “Sometimes, embedded deep within our most pressing challenges are promising opportunities,” said Fore.

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