Plastiki Rafiki is a non-profit student-led club at ISK which is committed to cleaning up our local environment and empowering communities to earn a living by recycling plastic through creative manufacturing techniques and product design. We create unique products using a range of plastic molding techniques as well as subtractive manufacturing processes. We build all our machines, with the help of the Open Source Plastic Recycling Community, and create all our products in the school's Fabrication Lab.
All profits from the sale of Plastiki Rafiki products go towards the further development and design of low-cost plastic recycling machines, product design, and the promotion of grassroots plastic collection and recycling in Kenya. Started in early 2018, Plastiki Rafiki has grown from a "proof of concept" to a fully functional social enterprise that has expanded beyond the school walls, encouraging others to see the value of discarded plastic - working towards a cleaner and greener Kenya for all.
Having proven that creating products out of molded discarded plastic is a viable business model in Kenya, we have been getting frequent visits from different organizations and individuals interested in starting their own plastic recycling workshops and requesting if we can help with machine building and training. In the last couple of months, we have hosted Close the Gap, Futbol Mas - Mathare, Kilimani Project Foundation, groups from Lamu Island, Watamu, Diani and, most recently, students from Braeburn Garden Estate. As we build machines and provide training to organizations, we hope to shift our focus from production to product innovation.
Setting up the Diani Workshop
Transferring what we learned from setting up and running Plastiki Rafiki over the past year, the club has been working towards setting up another workshop outside the school walls, with hopes of providing local employment and income and helping to clean up the environment. Diani beach, on the Kenya Coast, was chosen for this first pilot project - a partnership between Plastiki Rafiki, the Kwale Plastic Plus Collectors (KPPC) and the Diani Marine Education Centre.
The KPPC is a social enterprise trash collection service that has bins strategically placed all over Diani. The bins allow for sorting at the disposal stage, separating the collected waste into plastic, glass, metal, and paper. KPPC then further sorts the plastic into different polymers, ready to be recycled into new products. At this stage, one man's trash, really, is another's treasure!
Over the school holidays, two of our Plastiki Rafiki club members, Amani (Grade 12) and Phares (Lab Technician), volunteered their time and traveled to Diani to help set up the workshop, train KPPC on how to use the machines and conduct market research. Amani and Phares arrived in Diani with three plastic recycling machines: a plastic shredder, an injection machine, and a compression machine, all assembled by Plastiki Rafiki in advance. The Nomad hotel, the main sponsor behind the Diani Marine Education Centre, generously granted us workshop space to set up the machines.
Challenges and Solutions
Coming from a well-resourced fabrication lab, we saw how much harder, and time-consuming production is if you need to sand products by hand, or cut the paddle ball racquets without power tools and, most importantly, use machines without a constant source of electricity.
Unfortunately, we came to learn that the electrical setup in the room the machines were in was faulty. As a result, the plug to the compression machine blew several times. Realizing that we needed to modify the machinery to suit the Kenyan context, club member Oli (Grade 12) designed a charcoal powered plastic compressor which we plan to use in this kind of context in the future. He is currently working on modifying it further to support biogas, which can run off the seaweed, which might be an exciting alternative to our current electric system in Diani.
Lastly, as is often the case with startups, the Diani team experienced some setbacks while working out roles and responsibilities and figuring out the most suitable business plan for their context. We helped as much as we could while on the ground and will continue to advise from back in Nairobi. However, we realized that we will also need to dedicate more time this year to create a more easily transferable business plan for localization of the project.
Despite these few challenges, it was all worth it! We are immensely proud of the impact we are having on the community. As you read this, hotels in Diani have already started ordering Plastiki Rafiki merchandise from the Diani workshop!
Setting up the workshop was an invaluable learning experience. It taught us a lot about how we will need to adapt our machines to work in other parts of Kenya and what pitfalls we will need to look out for. We will continue to work closely with the Diani workshop this year, and we look forward to growing the Plastiki Rafiki Network together.
Plastiki Rafiki at the Diani Beach Cleanup
During the ten days we spent in Diani, we were fortunate enough to take part in the annual Diani Beach Cleanup, an environmental festival organized by different environmental organizations based in Diani. During this event, local community members and school groups came together to clean up Diani beach.
The event was attended by local politicians and publicized by local media. There were many fun games and activities being organized, including scavenger hunts, quizzes, and a silent auction. It was also an exciting occasion for the newly formed Plastiki Rafiki Diani branch as we were given a chance to exhibit and sell some of our newly created products.
Together with Diani residents, we cleaned the beaches of plastic and other pollutants. The waste collected was then tallied and stored at the KPPC Depot. The event provided an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers our rubbish can pose to marine life, local industry, and human health. When people understand the genuine danger posed by what they throw away, especially single-use plastics, we hope that their habits will change to reflect a more sustainable and environmentally aware approach.
The dangers of plastic pollution are all too real. Plastiki Rafiki hopes that the steps we are taking are helping to keep our ecosystem and communities safe. At the very least, we hope to raise awareness about the dangers of single-use plastics and drive the innovations and behavioral shifts we need to end their use.
By Amani & Camila (Grade 12 Students & Club Leaders)