When N’déye Marie Aïda Ndiéguène became a civil engineer, she dreamt of tangible solutions.
This dream became a reality in 2016 when Ms. Ndiéguène established Ecobuilders Ms, a construction firm that specializes in using plastic waste to make crop storage containers.
Thanks to an organization called Enactus, Ms. Ndiéguène discovered rural Senegal, where she learned about the many issues that affect farmers. One issue arose time and again: the problem of storage.
She says: “In the agricultural value chain, we push farmers to produce.… But for post-production, there are no measures in place to ensure that yields are preserved as long as possible.”
Ms. Ndiéguène discovered that farmers’ yields are usually large enough, sometimes even too large. But without efficient storage, most farmers lose some of their harvest.
Unfortunately, this problem of over-abundance also applies to plastic waste.
Throughout Senegal, and especially in big urban centres, there are huge volumes of plastic waste, a situation that Ms. Ndiéguène believes is an ecological tragedy. This plastic poses multiple threats in city centres, where it is sometimes burnt in garbage fires and can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
At the intersection of the issues of insufficient storage and plastic waste, Ms. Ndiéguène found her mission: to improve crop storage using only non-biodegradable waste.
Ecobuilders Ms recovers abandoned tires, plastic bottles, and plastic bags to create storage containers that preserve cash crops without requiring electricity.
She says that the structures effectively store products because they are partly made of earth.
The floor and walls of the storage containers are made of stacked tires, each filled with earth, each in a plastic bag, and offset like bricks. The plastic bottles join the tires together in the same way that mortar joins bricks. The entire structure is enclosed in earth to create the cool micro-climate necessary to preserve the crops stored inside.
Ms. Ndiéguène explains how the storage container works by using the example of sand on a hot day. If you put a finger in the sand, it is cooler below the ground than it is at ground-level. This is the same principle that explains the exceptional ability of the storage containers to preserve food.
Over time, it became clear that the ability of the containers to preserve crops was amazing. Onions can be stored in a cool, dark room for less than a month, and potatoes just two weeks. But Ms. Ndiéguène’s storage containers preserve them for six and three months, respectively.
As well as focusing on crop storage, Ms. Ndiéguène’s work highlights the possibilities of creating value from plastic waste. It also shows farmers “that recycling … doesn’t just concern urban populations. Rather, it can be an advantage to producers.”
The details of building a container depend on the size, but to build a 60 square-metre container, Ecobuilders Ms uses more than 3,000 tires and thousands of plastic bottles and bags.
Ms. Ndiéguène’s business is growing. With every project, Ecobuilders Ms hires local community members and delivers all necessary training.
For farmers who wish to build their own storage container in Ecobuilders’ style, Ms. Ndiéguène recommends using local and readily accessible materials. She adds, “What’s important about the method … is its adaptability. What’s most important is to … adapt the model to materials which are locally available.”