Recycled plastic schools in Abidjan

Posted on 23 January 2020.

By the end of 2020, 500 recycled plastic brick built classrooms will have been built in Côte d'Ivoire. Inexpensive, durable and easy to assemble, a robust school is ready to use in only a month.

"More classrooms for children in Côte d’Ivoire, reduced plastic waste in the environment, and additional income avenues for the most vulnerable families.”

Last September, at the start of the 2019 school year, the headmistress of the Gonzagueville nursery school in Abidjan welcomed her first pupils into their new classrooms - built with recycled plastic bricks!

The manufacturing process for these 100% circular modular bricks was invented by Oscar Méndez and Isabel Cristina Gámez. This Colombian couple founded their social enterprise Conceptos Plásticos to build housing for the homeless from recycled plastic, along the way also providing work for waste pickers. Eager to export their technology and know-how to the West African market, Oscar and Isabel teamed up with UNICEF in Côte d'Ivoire to build the classrooms the country is sorely lacking.

Nine classrooms have already been built in Gonzagueville, Divo and Toumodi, demonstrating the viability of this new material - not only cheaper than conventional materials, but also durable and easy to assemble. The first classrooms were built using bricks imported from Colombia, but now a plastic processing plant is under construction in Abidjan.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a press release: “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.”

Target: 500 new classrooms in a year

Côte d'Ivoire needs 15,000 new classrooms if it is to accommodate all the children who should be attending school in the coming years. By partnering with Conceptos Plásticos, UNICEF hopes to open 500 recycled plastic brick built classrooms for more than 25,000 children by the end of 2020.

The plastic waste collected in and around Abidjan will supply the local production plant. Of the more than 280 metric tons of plastic waste produced every day in the capital alone, only 5% is recycled. The rest usually ends up in landfills in poor neighbourhoods, generating pollution that aggravates pre-existing health problems.


A source of income for waste pickers

According to UNICEF, when fully operational, the Abidjan processing plant is expected to recycle 9,600 metric tons of plastic waste per year. "Once operational, [it] will employ 30 workers and, indirectly, hundreds of pickers," reports Le Monde in its account of the everyday life of these women who travel all over the Ivorian capital with large garbage bags to recover all kinds of waste - including plastic.

After collection and sorting, they sell their bales for a small amount to intermediaries who transport them to recycling plants. The work is uncertain and doesn’t allow them to provide for their families adequately. The plant will train these women so they can eliminate intermediaries and make a better living. In Bogota, women pickers’ earnings have shot up from $5-10 a day to $20-25 a day!