Nelplast transforms plastic waste into environmentally friendly building materials
Interview with Nelson Boateng, Founder and CEO of Nelplast Eco Ghana
What differentiates Nelplast from your competitors?
Nelplast recycles and recovers plastic waste. Not only are we cleaning up the environment and creating jobs, but we are also providing affordable building materials to very low income Ghanaians. We have more than 300 waste pickers, mostly women, who collect up to 20,000 kilos of plastics and bring them back to us daily. We scale it then grind it, wash it if necessary and introduce it into an extruder with three heating zones because not all plastics have the same melting point. The resulting dough is then put into a mould, pressed and transformed into various products. The products we manufacture have advantages over concrete because they are moisture-free and recyclable even after many years, unlike a concrete product. When the concrete breaks, that’s it. In addition, our products are 30 to 40% cheaper, which makes us competitive.
If your recycled plastic products are cheaper than concrete products, what are the difficulties in developing them further?
The difficulty is that Ghanaians find it very difficult to accept new products. I invested a lot in telling people that it’s better than concrete. For three years, I have paved roads for free to show people how Ghana that this product works better.
How do you show investors that your products work and are not just an idea?
We have created jobs and the environment is cleaner than when we started production. Instead of people just throwing away plastic, we’re helping the environment. We are also seeing demand for more than we can produce, which has been progress so far.
Who are your main customers?
Customers are mainly individuals immovable. They want us to install climate-friendly products for them. Real estate generates around 20% of our business. 80% of our contracts are with individuals who want to build houses.
Do you want to grow your business by selling directly to individuals, or do you also have a strategy for the B2B market?
I want to go to a higher level but I don’t want to leave those who are at a lower level, so I work with the government who give me contracts. More contracts mean more plastic can be extracted from the environment to be turned into building materials.
Do you have an international plan to expand beyond Ghana?
Nelplast wants to go further to tackle the problem of plastic waste. Rwanda has a problem transforming plastic waste into building materials, so I was called. We are going to build machines and put in place the same plan we have in Ghana to start producing pavers. They need innovations to solve their problems.
The demand for recycled plastic materials is increasing, so what do you need to grow your business further?
We need more machines. We import some parts for them, and they are very expensive, so we need a fund to build more machines. In order to welcome all the plastic waste that is brought to us and transform it into useful products, as well as to create jobs for people who collect plastics and who depend on work to put food on the table for their families, we need more machines.
How many investors do you need to invest?
In order for me to handle 20,000 kilos of plastics per day, I need about $2 million for the expansion of the factory and the installation of more machines.
What projects are you currently working on?
We have about fifteen projects in progress. They are two and three bedroom homes. We are paving an area of more than 5,000 square meters and we are in the foundation phase. Each project must pay a deposit of 60% of its individual cost. They are all individuals who have asked us to build their house for them.
Where do you see your business in the short to medium term and what do you want to accomplish?
Ghana generates over one million tonnes of plastic waste and only 5% is recycled. We have a huge housing deficit. Nelplast aims to see every single Ghanaian own a home. We want to see Ghana recycle more than 5% of its plastic waste. It’s the only way to help people, help tackle the plastic waste problem, create jobs, and get most slum dwellers and schools under trees. Nelplast wants to see Ghana as a neighbor among countries that do a lot of recycling because the 5% goes nowhere. And the housing deficit seems to be a very big challenge. This is what we want to achieve over the next five years.
On a personal level, what inspires you and what is your philosophy of life?
I was raised by a single mother and I understand what it’s like to live in a slum or have children without enough income to feed them. Even though it’s been a very difficult journey, when women talk about “depending on you to feed my family”, it keeps me going.
ABOUT NELSON BOATENG AND NELPLAST: Nelson Boateng is an eco-entrepreneur who has been running a plastic recycling business for years, making different products ranging from shopping bags to road bricks to affordable housing and more. Nelplast Eco Ghana recycles tons of plastic a day to solve 3 major problems in Ghana: affordable housing, plastic waste and jobs. The company uses all kinds of plastic waste in the production of building materials for construction, such as bricks for roads, construction or tiles.
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