African innovators transforming plastic waste into school desks, biofuels and textiles in the running for £1 million prize

Sub-Saharan African recycling projects that transform waste plastic into school desks, paving slabs, construction bricks and garden fences are just some of the 30 semi-finalists in the Afri-Plastics Challenge: Accelerating Growth strand.

Other successful ideas through to the semi-finals of the Accelerating Growth strand include projects that remove marine plastic pollution caused by fishing, a project that uses drones to identify plastic pollution hotspots, community-based solar powered recycling hubs, and sustainable biofuels created from plastic waste.

A number of entries integrate digital reward schemes that offer incentives to citizens such as cash, health insurance and school fees in exchange for collected plastic, and others are converting waste plastic into sustainable textiles. A running theme across the 30 semi-finalists is the positive impact the projects can have for women and girls involved in the plastic waste value chain.

The Afri-Plastics Challenge is delivered by London-based innovation foundation Nesta Challenges and funded by the Government of Canada. The CA$14.5 million (£8.6 million) fund aims to identify, support and scale solutions to plastic waste pollution in sub-Saharan Africa. The challenge places particular emphasis on projects that support women and girls.

With 238 entries from social enterprises, charities, community groups, small businesses and entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa, each of the semi-finalist teams will now receive grants of £10,000 to grow their ideas and demonstrate their scalability. In addition to financial support, they will receive expert advice and capacity building in the fields of plastic management, human-centred design, market readiness and communications.

In January 2022, 15 finalists will be selected, receiving a further £100,000 each to advance their solutions to plastic waste management. From these 15 finalists, three winners will be announced in March 2023 – third place will be awarded £500,000, second place will be awarded £750,000 and the first place will be awarded £1 million.

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 ecosystem 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.

“Challenge prizes like the Afri-Plastics Challenge create a level playing field for innovators and entrepreneurs to bring forward solutions to the great problems of our time. In addition to grants, the semi-finalists receive capacity building support to grow their businesses into sustainable solutions with long-term impact for their communities”.

Edward Mungai, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Climate Innovation Center and 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”

The Afri-Plastics Challenge aims to reduce marine plastics in sub-Saharan African countries by finding ways to minimise reliance on plastic, develop new ways of managing plastic waste, and/or develop new uses for plastic that has been discarded. The challenge is designed for innovators and entrepreneurs across the sub-Saharan African region.

The 30 semi-finalist teams come from across sub-Saharan Africa, with teams based in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda.

Launched in July 2021, the Accelerating Growth strand of the Afri-Plastics Challenge specifically seeks to scale solutions to managing plastic waste.

In September 2021, a second strand named Creating Solutions launched specifically focused on reducing and eliminating plastic usage and to minimise quantities entering the waste value chain in the first place – applications for this second strand close on 1 December 2021 at 1200 GMT.

The third and final strand of the Afri-Plastics Challenge will be announced in December 2021.

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