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UNICEF breaks ground on Africa’s first-of-its-kind recycled plastic brick factory in Côte d’Ivoire

In innovative partnership, factory will
produce plastic bricks to build classrooms for children

Children and their teacher are very happy with their new class which was built with plastic bricks made out of recycled plastic. Gonzagueville , Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
UNICEF, in partnership with Colombian
social enterprise Conceptos Plasticos, has announced it had broken ground on
a first-of-its-kind factory that will convert plastic waste collected in Côte
d’Ivoire into modular plastic bricks. The easy-to-assemble, durable, low-cost
bricks will be used to build much needed classrooms in the West African

“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 UNICEF Executive Director
Henrietta Fore. “Its potential is threefold: more classrooms for children in
Côte d’Ivoire, reduced plastic waste in the environment, and additional income
avenues for the most vulnerable families.”

Classroom built in Cote d’Ivoire  with bricks from plastic waste

Côte d’Ivoire needs 15,000 classrooms to
meet the needs of children without a place to learn. To help fill this gap,
UNICEF has partnered with Conceptos Plasticos to use recycled plastic collected
from polluted areas in and around Abidjan to build 500 classrooms for more than
25,000 children with the most urgent need in the next two years, with potential
to increase production beyond. 
“One of the major challenges facing
Ivorian school 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,” said UNICEF Representative Dr. Aboubacar Kampo, who has
championed the project from its inception.

“In certain areas, for the first-time,
kindergartners from poor neighborhoods would be able to attend classrooms with
less than 100 other students. 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
More than 280 tonnes of plastic waste are
produced every day in Abidjan alone. Only about 5 per cent is recycled – the
rest mostly ends up in landfill sites in low-income communities. Plastic waste
pollution exacerbates existing hygiene and sanitation challenges. Improper
waste management is responsible for 60 per cent of malaria, diarrhea and
pneumonia cases in children – diseases that are among the leading causes of
death for children in Côte d’Ivoire.
Once it is fully operational, the factory
will recycle 9,600 tonnes of plastic waste a year and provide a source of income
to women living in poverty in a formalized recycling market. Nine classrooms
have been built in Gonzagueville, Divo and Toumodi using plastic bricks made in
Colombia, demonstrating the viability of the construction methods and
“We partnered with UNICEF on this project
because we want our business model to have a social impact. By turning plastic
pollution into an opportunity, we want to help lift women out of poverty and
leave a better world for children,” said Isabel Cristina Gamez, Co-Founder and
CEO, Conceptos Plasticos.

The bricks will be made from 100 per cent
plastic and are fire resistant. They are 40 per cent cheaper, 20 per cent
lighter and will last hundreds of years longer than conventional building
materials. They are also waterproof, well insulated and designed to resist
heavy wind.
Alongside investment to build in Côte
d’Ivoire, plans are also under way to scale this project to other countries in
the region, and potentially beyond. West and central Africa accounts for
one-third of the world’s primary school age children and one-fifth of lower
secondary age children who are out of school.
“Sometimes, embedded deep within our most
pressing challenges are promising opportunities,” said Fore. “This project is
more than just a waste management and education infrastructure project; it is a
functioning metaphor—the growing challenge of plastic waste turned into literal
building blocks for a future generation of children.”
Credit: UNICEF

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