The amount of plastic waste produced globally is on track to triple to over 1,000 million tons by 2060. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report predicts that developed countries will continue to produce the most plastic waste per person, although emerging regions like Africa and Asia are expected to experience the fastest growth owing to rapid population growth and urbanization.
Plastic pollution is already a menace said to be altering environments and endangering lives, but there is a glimmer of hope as the share of recycled plastic is expected to nearly double over the same period to 17% as plastic going through waste management systems increases.
In Africa, Kubik, an upcycling startup with operations in Kenya and Ethiopia, is among the companies that are leading plastic waste reuse and sustainability efforts in the continent’s nascent recycling sector, which currently salvages only 4% of the waste produced.
The startup turns hard-to-recycle plastic waste (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene) into affordable building materials, removing 45,000 kg of plastic waste from landfills every day. The startup is now planning to double down on the production of building materials in Ethiopia before scaling to other countries within Africa, against the backdrop of a recently closed $3.34 million seed funding round.
Founded by Kidus Asfaw and Penda Marre in 2021, Kubik plans to scale production at its plant in Ethiopia later this year, saying it has the capacity to build over a quarter million square meters of wall surface area every year.
“This can build anywhere up to 10,000 affordable homes per year, for example. Speaking of affordable housing, there is a 300M+ deficit of housing units globally that are considered affordable to the poor. This is a $2T+ market we have an opportunity to address, and we are just getting started,” said Asfaw, the CEO of the company, which won Startup of the Year at the 2023 Global Startup Awards and was declared the leading climate tech startup in Africa at last week’s VivaTech conference.
Investors that took part in the round include Plug and Play, Bestseller Foundation, GIIG Africa Fund, Satgana, Unruly Capital, Savannah Fund, African Renaissance Partners, Kazana Fund, Princeton Alumni Angels, and Andav Capital.
“We are thrilled to invest and partner with Kubik on their transformative journey. Their purpose-driven vision, exceptional team, and unique business model — combining positive social impact, circular economy, and low-carbon construction — positions Kubik as a scalable and sustainable solution to Africa’s most pressing challenges,” said climate tech VC Satgana co-founder Romain Diaz.
Kubik develops interlocking building materials, which include bricks, columns, beams and jambs, allowing developers to erect walls without the need for cement, aggregates, and steel. Asfaw says this does not compromise the building’s integrity and that the strength of walls built with its products is at par with cement-based walls.
He added that Kubik’s products cost at least 40% less per square meter and have chemical properties that make them safe, anti-flammable and nondegradable. Besides, he says, these products are low carbon, with a greenhouse gas emission of “at least 5x less than cement-based products.”
Asfaw says the materials’ affordability can play a role in bridging the current housing deficit that is partly driven by a growing urban population and hefty costs of construction. The startup is driving this change even as global appeals continue for governments to introduce policies that lessen plastic waste and encourage a more circular use of the plastics.
“The world is urbanizing dramatically fast today, and cities are feeling the burden of unmanaged plastic waste, unaffordable living conditions (especially in housing), and the impact of climate change. Our company plays a role in addressing all three of these challenges through a lower-carbon, lower-cost building solution that removes plastic waste from the environment. We believe this is why there is a lot of excitement in our company and its mission,” said Asfaw.
“We have a product that is transforming how we build sustainably and more affordably, and we see ourselves becoming a company that will continue to drive technology into the materials used for decarbonizing the built environment faster.”