Pupils and adults alike look on in awe as men lay bottles in line and onto a soggy mix of cement and sand. The novelty is in the men using plastic bottles instead of the conventional clay bricks to erect a structure. Among the mainly young workers, is 28-year-old Sadam Bukenya, the brainchild of the new construction method.
Between breaks of him supervising his team at a building site in Muyenga, a Kampala suburb, he shares a vision of saving the environment. At the site, a worker unpacks bottles from sacks, shares them with another who checks for their density and then passes them onto Bukenya and a colleague who layer the cement onto the bottles and bricks.
Birthing the idea
Another colleague mixes the cement, sand and water. As they go about their work, they share jokes and throw jibes at one another. Bukenya explains that before they decided to fill the bottles with polythene bags, they had seen builders at Nakivale Refugee Settlement in South Western Uganda put up a house using plastic bottles that were packed with soil. They decided to fill the bottles with polythene as a way of sustainably ridding the environment of two waste materials.
Bukenya grew up in the slums of Kamwokya and got irked at the sight of waste every time it rained. That is when people who worked in the markets as well as those who lived on the upper side of Kamwokya would release waste into gutters for rain to transport it to the lower neighbourhood, leading to pollution and clogging of the water channels.
First, he would mobilise his colleagues to unclog the channels until he got a smarter idea. Today, his home is a collection centre for plastic bottles and polythene bags. He runs 'Clear Wall of Dreams', a non-government organisations under which he has sensitised locals from different suburbs to save the environment while earning from the waste collected.
Currently he has at least 100 beneficiaries who collect plastic bottles and pack them with polythene bags. He pays them Shs600 for each stuffed 600ml bottle and Shs1,000 for the 1.5ml bottle. His innovation is contributing to efforts to sustainably protect the environment in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) which root for building sustainable communities around the world through use of innovative pathways.
The first 'bottle brick' project they put up was in 'lost city' in Nsooba. It became a centre of attraction which encouraged Bukenya to sensitise more locals on the need to rid communities of plastic and polythene waste.
"We have good soils but when polythene bags are improperly disposed, they affect its quality since such a bag can stay in the soils for close to a thousand years. When we rid society of the polythene and use it in construction, it is viable and attracts people's attention which allows us to sensitise them," he explains.
Under 'Clear Wall of Dreams', he is assisted by Teddy Akongo, the administrator. The two met five years ago under the Ghetto Research Lab where, alongside other youths, undertook self-help projects of creatively utilising plastic as well as urban farming.
"She is a good accountant and has good interpersonal skills which are ideal traits to continuity of our endeavour," he adds.
Besides using plastic and polythene in construction, Akongo says they would like to use them and other waste to build pavers. Their hope is to get a paver-making machine in the near future.
Bukenya's efforts were boosted by Viva Con Agua, a non-governmental organisation which contracted them to build toilets at Moonlight Nursery and Primary School in Kabowa and Skate Park in Kitintale, among other sites. Six toilets were constructed at Moonlight Nursery and Primary School, which required up to 14,000 plastic bottles.
The NGO also receives bottles collected by People with Disabilities (PWDs) as a way of saving them from accidents as they beg for money from motorists on main roads and busy walkways.
A two-roomed toilet facility can take up to 12,000 bottles. For ventilation, the group uses glass bottles which are cut to enable aeration. Statistically, the 28-year-old estimates that a 600ml plastic bottle brick can take up to 50 polythene bags or 110 black polythene bags. It can be stuffed with about 300 white translucent bags. On the other hand, he estimates that the bigger 1.5ml plastic bottle can take up to 900 black polythene bags.
"More than 9,000 plastic bottle bricks were used in the construction of the four-room pit toilet at the Skate Park in Kitintale, Kampala," he says, adding that the income earned by youth has helped keep them off the streets and from criminal activities. He speaks from experience, having been exposed to destitute situations that could have led him into illegal undertakings.
"I have grown up in Kamwokya and I am familiar with the lifestyle and challenges of living in a ghetto. My mother was a food vendor who could not take care of us all since we had lost our father at a young age. I have done things that I am not proud of but I do not want other youth to go through the same," he says.
He adds that from as early as eight years, boys and girls are fending for themselves and are susceptible to group influence and wayward behaviour such as smocking weed and chewing marijuana. At nightfall, they go to places such as the Northern by-pass to steal passengers' phones. In reaching out to some of the young people to collect plastic and polythene bags, Bukenya believes he is making a positive contribution towards saving fellow young people too.
Food for thought
Average humans can consume 15 or more products packed in PET single use plastic a month. If you were born after 1978, and live to be 80 years old, you will leave behind a minimum of 14,400 plastic packaging on this planet. This plastic take hundreds of years to break down into tiny pieces of plastic, never to completely disappear. Most of the waste is consumed by fish and birds, which has shortened their lifespans greatly.
If you live in a plastic bottle house of 100 square metres, then your house will be built reusing 14,000 plastic bottles. These up cycled bottles could neutralise the negative effect of your passage on this planet, and move closer to leaving only your "footprints".