EcoBrick Exchange

EcoBrick Exchange: Community up-liftment by up-cycling plastic waste

Port Elizabeth, South AfricaPort Elizabeth, South Africa
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The EcoBrick Exchange uses 2-liter PET-bottles filled with plastic waste (EcoBricks) to build schools in South Africa. We activate and bring together communities, raise awareness for environmental issues and create job opportunities. We strive for sustainable development and resilient communities.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we supplied a solution to make Africa plastic waste free until 2030 by building schools and community centers?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Ecobrick Exchange addresses three core problems in South Africa: 1: A lack of environmental awareness/responsibility and absence of recycling systems cause large amounts of plastic waste degrading environment and human settlements 2: A lack of community integration causes socio-economic imbalances and civil unrest 3: A lack of adequate community facilities such as schools in underprivileged communities impact health and job opportunities

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Following our interventions, school children and residents of the Townships are currently among the main contributors of EcoBricks. Plastic waste has been removed from the areas where EcoBricking activities are taking place. People from various socio-economic backgrounds are joining workshops to collectively contribute to the construction of our pilot construction. Many participants of our project have never been to the underprivileged communities in the Townships before, but because they assist in building the school by providing the building material (EcoBricks) they now have a reason to visit - a process, which we foster and facilitate. We achieved that the whole city is taking part in building our first EcoBrick school in the Township.


UNDP's SEED Award; Certificate of Merit at the Eco-Logic Awards; SAB Foundation's Social Innovation Award; People's Choice Award at the Architecture for Social Gains Awards
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In Port Elizabeth we are building a Preschool with up-cycled plastic waste (using so called EcoBricks) and are thereby offering an alternative to landfill. Since this is a communal building it allows us to include communities even across different socio-economic backgrounds. To realize this we use tools to identify, promote and activate communities: Aside from workshops at schools and talks throughout the city, we have created monthly Swop Shops where EcoBricks can be used as a trading commodity for secondhand clothing. Dropoff-Points at local business partners additionally provide an incentive by offering discounts in return for EcoBricks. Thus far we have collected 12 000 EcoBricks - already enough to build two schools!

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The EcoBrick Exchange has initiated a culture of environmental consciousness and recycling in Port Elizabeth - in total it collected 4.8 tons of plastic waste. It has coordinated the fabrication and collection of all necessary bottles to build our flagship school and initiated an exchange system that empowers people in Townships to receive items 
donated for the bottles they have made. We will continue to achieve cleaner environments, free of non-recyclable waste and filled with community members that are environmentally conscious; build resilient communities with homes and schools built with environmentally friendly, up-cycled materials; create high quality learning environments for disadvantaged youth; promote life in a society where methods used are to improve the general public at large, where environmental education, gender equity and job creation are the norm.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

In two years we have collected 4.8 tons of plastic waste, we have reached 10 000 school children, involved 6 000 citizens of Port Elizabeth and included 500 Township residents and 150 Volunteers in regular activities. We brought the cities residents a bit closer to each other. There's great potential for up-scaling: Twenty other cities in South Africa have already asked us to implement our project. Additionally, South Africa is among the countries with the strictest construction laws in Africa, which means that we can build anywhere on the continent once we have proven that it works here.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We offer our solution to the construction industry. Clients may include architects, builders and municipalities alike. Our market segment is all new construction. The plan is to supply enough EcoBricks for any-sized projects (office buildings, houses, libraries, community centers, schools). Our flagship project will demonstrate the structures versatility and flexibility. From this we can teach endusers how to make use of the technology.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Our project is unique: It utilizes a novel and innovative building method and material. The concept may easily be duplicated, however the impact it makes and the involvement from the community is essential for its success. Despite the various benefits, EcoBricking is very labor intensive. Without the involvement of the community it would be illogical and unfeasible. Our challenge will be to illustrate the benefits of our solution to the masses, namely the fact that it empowers communities, creates jobs and spares tons of unrecyclable waste from ending up in landfill.

Founding Story

It was an autumn afternoon in Walmer Township when Kinga, Ilze, Ian and I all looked at each other and said: "Let's do it!". For a month we had researched and assessed the possibility of setting up an NGO that is centered on "EcoBricking" in Port Elizabeth. We were intrigued by the possibilities such a project would offer. We talked to residents of all socio-economic backgrounds, trying to gauge whether or not such an endeavor would work in the city. After this research period, all of us were sure that it could work, but little did we know then, that only two years later it would already be discussed in the whole country and even receive international recognition!


Kinga Mnich is one of the founding members of the organization. As Director of Strategic Management she supports the enterprise by handling the operational aspects of all ventures EcoBrick deals with and also facilitates training and community development throughout the project's entirety. Lead by Kinga Mnich, the EBE runs workshops, seminars and discussion forums within the recipient community as well as within participating schools and local business partners. Ilze Stegmann is the Director of Training and Workshops. Her position has the objective to manage all trainings and workshops facilitated by the organization given to schools, the community, volunteers and stakeholders. The aim is to formalize trainings and workshops programs ensuring clear systematic structure and developing different training programs adjusted for different audiences. Sebastian Kuhn is one of the founding members of the organization. As the Director of Media and Communications he acts as media focal point and oversees all media inquiries. Furthermore, he is in charge of all publications and external communications of the EcoBrick Exchange. Lead by Sebastian Kuhn, the EBE seeks to execute the set communication goals, which also encompass social media, public information, audio-visual production, reputational risk management as well as aspects of corporate communication. Ian Dommisse is one of the founding members of the organization. He is Director of Construction. Ian supports the enterprise by managing the team of built environment professionals such as the architects, engineers, manufacturers and quantity surveyors on the client's behalf. Lead by our resident architect Ian Dommisse, the EBE is constantly sourcing cost saving, donations and pro-bono services in order to lower the project cost.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:


Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-Founder / Director Media & Communications

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Walmer Film Group - The Film Group has produced a documentary series about life in Walmer Township. The “Izimvo Zethu - My View, Your View, Our Lives” series aired on the local TV-Station BayTV in 2013. It was a series of 15 minute episodes which were broadcast fortnightly and nationwide. The film group has received recognition and praise amongst viewers in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Through an extensive selection process the EBE was chosen to take part in this years ten day incubation chamber of Red Bull Amaphiko to be held in Langa, Cape Town in November. An important aspect of the programme is to es- tablish synergies among young South African Entrepreneurs and assist them to learn from each other’s journey and remain in close collaboration.

All of the directors are participating in various online learning opportunities concerned with social entrepreneurialism, civil society strengthening, organizational leadership and sustainable development processes on platforms such as Coursera and various Universities' online offerings.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Ziyanda Mapela supports the enterprise by assisting Kinga and Ian with the facilitation and co ordinating of various projects, tasks and events. Ziyanda also runs the schools championships campaign where schools interested in the project are educated on The EcoBrick Exchange and motivated to do more with what they have.

Blommie Nontshinga; Penguins learn and play centre is our first recipient preschool that will be replaced with our high quality EcoBrick structure. Blommie Nontshinga, the teacher contributes by involving local community members, mainly the parents of her students in the production of the required 6000 EcoBricks.

Stauch Voster Architects (SVA); The architects at SVA are a key strategic partner for our organization. They assist us with design work, legal questions and development of additional uses for up-cycled plastic materials.

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