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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Plastic recycling challenge: 30 semi-finalists emerge

Nesta Challenges has announced the semi-finalists of Accelerating Growth, the first strand of the Afri-Plastics Challenge. The Prize aims to reduce marine plastics in sub-Saharan African countries by developing and scaling innovative solutions to plastic mismanagement.

Plastic waste to interlocks
Interlocking blocks made from waste plastic items

In July 2021, the competition’s first strand, Accelerating Growth, announced a call for applications from small and medium-sized enterprises across sub-Saharan Africa who have a scalable solution or proof of concept that improves plastic waste management in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

With mismanaged waste as one of the key drivers of marine plastic pollution, waste management systems throughout the region are at a crucial point in their evolution. The development of new innovative processes and systems is imperative to improve the detrimental impact of waste pollution on the environment.

Through their collective voice the Afri-Plastics Challenge Judging Panel reviewed each application and selected 30 semi-finalist from across sub-Saharan Africa – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda,  South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, to move forward in the next phase of the challenge.

Each semi-finalist solution addresses the reduction of plastic waste within the wider plastics value chain by reducing marine plastic litter in ways that aim to positively impact their communities. Buy back centres target low-income groups in their communities and allow individuals to sell their recyclable materials to these centres for recycling and receive payment for these items. Some of the semi-finalists use digital technology to facilitate booking and collection of waste in exchange for a cash reward and send it to users via mobile money, or in the form of health funds, health insurance or coding classes on the same day.

There is also a growing list of companies that convert unsorted plastic waste into clean gaseous fuel through a thermal cracking process of distillation and compression that creates no emissions, residue, or pollution to the environment.

Constance Agyeman, Director of International Development, Nesta Challenges, said: “Only 12 per cent of the 17 million tonnes of plastic pollution generated in sub-Saharan Africa each year is recycled – the rest is dumped, buried or burnt. The impact this has on communities, the health of individuals and the precious sub-Saharan ecosystems is colossal. Africa’s innovators are already working on home-grown solutions, but to have maximum impact they need meaningful support to scale. The 30 semi-finalists demonstrate that the long-term solutions to Africa’s plastic pollution dilemma are waiting in the wings, now is the time they take centre stage.”

Edward Mungai, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Climate Innovation Centre & Afri-Plastics Challenge Judge, said: “I am so amazed at the quality of submissions for the Afri-Plastics Challenge, a truly remarkable undertaking against a backdrop of what has been a very challenging year for all. My admiration goes to all our applicants who have worked so hard to prepare their entries for the Challenge.”

In November 2021, the 30 semi-finalists will take part in a Digital Activation Workshop where they will be introduced to a capacity-building support package that will include expert mentoring in the following key areas: Innovation, Plastics, Market-Orientation and Narrative-Building. This will be followed by six weeks of further capacity building support with these mentors to help consolidate plans for scaling solutions. 

The semi-finalists will also be given grants of £10,000 each to support in the development and validation of their scaling plans. At the end of this phase, they will be required to submit a detailed scaling plan together with a pitch video for evaluation by the judges against the criteria.

At the end of January 2022, 15 finalists will be selected to move forward in the Challenge and continue their journey to win one of the three final prizes.

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