On a visit to Kisenyi 2 Zone in Kamwokya, I find a young man, Patrick Mujuzi with several youth clad in blue and orange overalls stuffing polythene bags in various forms of plastic bottles.
The energetic youth are sweating but seem to be enjoying what they are doing as they chat away, with reggae music blasting from the speakers hanging in a corner of the shelter. They are creating bottle bricks for two main reasons – to use for building various houses and to help save the environment.
Mujuzi is the CEO and founder of ECO Voice Uganda Ltd which has now been renamed the Ghetto Research Lab. Asked why they changed its name, he says ECO Voice Uganda Ltd had been registered as a company limited by shares but since it was not making any profits, it was decided they change it into a company limited by guarantee.
This however had not always been his dream. In 2009, Mujuzi graduated from Kyambogo University as a teacher. But Mujuzi found a need to give back his community in Kamwokya.
“I came to the ghetto and found the people had several challenges; many youth were not working, and the environment was not good. So I decided to change my mind and register an organisation called Eco Voice Uganda Limited, which we are changing to Ghetto Research Lab,” he says.
Asked what the lab really does, he says it is a centre that has different groups of people especially youths who do their research and innovate in plastic and organic management.
“We do compound designs, grow crops in sacks, basically research. We research by trying, we try and try until we get the best and then share the skills with the people around the ghetto,” he states.
The team has also set up a composite toilet .A composting toilet is a type of dry toilet that treats human excreta by a biological process called composting. The ecofriendly toilet is used by some of the community members who do not have a sanitation facility.
Unlike the normal latrines, this one is made up of a bucket which is placed under a fixed toilet seat with a cover. The plastic toilet seat cover is placed on top of a wooden frame below which the bucket is placed.
Inside the bucket is sawdust, which not only helps kill the bad smell, but also keeps flies away. There is also more saw dust kept in a separate bucket in one corner of the facility from which one picks to pour into the toilet when they have finished using it.
The human waste generated here is not dumped but rather kept safely and decomposed in a pile for organic manure.
Mujuzi tells me that the organisation is running seven value addition projects. For example, they pick different seeds that have been thrown away, including papaya, and jackfruit seeds, sun dry, roast and then pound them before packing for sale as manure. They also rear rabbit for their fur which is reportedly on high demand in the USA. The organisation is also involved in aquaponics (a system where waste produced by farmed fish supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water), creative arts, community tourism, bottle brick making and the plastic management department.
He says it is under the plastic management department, that “We have found a long term solution to the constant problem of plastic bottles and polythene bags which have often been described as a nuisance, turning them into ‘gold’.”
Mujuzi goes ahead to tell me how this is done. “It only takes me 15-20 minutes to fill this 300ml bottle. This bottle contains between 200-300 plastic bags inside, we fix them there and make it hard like a brick.
The bigger 1.5 litre bottles however take more polythene, up to between 500 and 600 bags, depending on their thickness.
After explaining how the bottle brick is made, he takes me to a place where they constructed the first bottle brick toilet. He then tells me the toilet, which looks beautiful, with amazing artistic works and painting, has over one million pieces of plastic.
“This is our bottle brick toilet. It is the first ever building with bottles that contain polythene inside. Other people who have used bottles to construct any structures normally use cement or soil inside their bottles,” Mujuzi boasts with a wide smile.
He says the toilet took exactly one month to be fully constructed with the first two weeks used for packing of the bottles and the other two used for the construction. Apart from the bottles, they used cement, sand and iron sheets. The toilet also has a solar panel used for lighting while the water tank is for water harvesting which water is used for hand-washing.
This toilet has two wings: one for men and the other for women. Each wing has two stalls with one bathroom.
He says it was put up to rescue residents of the area whose old toilet was no longer functional.
“The former toilet was not good, it had filled up and the chairman had even blocked the entrance to it so people had started defecating in polythene bags and disposing them everywhere,” he added.
Mujuzi, a father of two, who says his motivation to come up with the bottle brick project was to save the environment and also create jobs for the youth, does not regret being in this kind of business .
“We have been able to pay school fees for our two children in good schools, pay rent, medical bills and I have been able to look after my sweetheart,” he says.
He believes everyone has a part to play in protecting the environment.
“It is not the duty of government to protect the environment, it is everyone’s duty because even if government is active enough it cannot know how much polythene is littered around your community or building, but you know,” he states, adding that the government should pick a leaf from this project to save the environment and if it cannot do so, it should then empower people like him who are already doing it.