Monday, 28 November 2016

Meet the entrepreneur solving pollution and homelessness at the same time

By Lauren Davidson
November 28, 2016

Concepticos Plásticos was founded in 2010
Waste not, want not might be an old-fashioned axiom confined to the lexicon of finger‑wagging grandparents, but a 34-year-old from Colombia has turned it into his life mission.

Bogota-based Oscar Méndez is, to borrow another saying, killing two birds with one stone.

His company, Concepticos Plásticos, transforms discarded plastic into construction material to build permanent homes, tackling two of the biggest environmental, economic and social challenges facing the world today: pollution and homelessness.

“Plastic waste is a global problem, and the housing deficit is also a major problem in many countries,” says Méndez, who trained as an architect. “Concepticos Plásticos provides a solution to both of these issues.”

Oscar Méndez is an architect who lives in Bogota
In Bogota, Méndez says, 6,300 tons of rubbish are sent to the landfill every day. Meanwhile, in some areas of Latin America, more than 40 per cent of people are inadequately housed.

These problems are not limited to Colombia, and the effects of waste and homelessness have ramifications all over the world.

“The problem is the negative impact of plastic in the environment and the existence of fragile housing in vulnerable communities, which accelerates global warming and the inequality gap,” Méndez says.

“Our materials contribute in the fight against extreme poverty, improve informal settlements (such as refugee camps) and create sustainable living conditions,” he adds. “Closed plastic recycling is one of the best ways to fulfil a social task and benefit vulnerable communities.”

What’s more, by turning plastic waste into Lego-like building blocks, Concepticos Plásticos also empowers these disadvantaged and displaced groups by enabling them to build their own homes.

Méndez says more than 70 countries are interested in his product
The enterprise, which was started in 2010, recently won $300,000 from The Venture, whisky brand Chivas Regal’s annual search for the most innovative start-ups. It beat more than 2,500 applications from other scalable and sustainable social enterprises.

Alexandre Ricard, the boss of Chivas Regal owner Pernod Ricard and a judge at The Venture, called Concepticos Plásticos “a great example of how innovative, passionate and forward-thinking the social entrepreneurship movement is.”

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the company. The first challenge, Méndez says, was “breaking the barriers of the traditional construction market that is saturated with old systems”. The second was even tougher: getting polluting manufacturers to admit responsibility and start including Concepticos Plásticos’s processes so their waste could be recycled into bricks.

But Méndez is – brick by brick – making progress. The fact that he has caught the attention of investors is in itself a major step towards success. As he puts it: “Indifference is the biggest challenge facing global warming and extreme poverty.”

Méndez says he has more than 70 countries interested in his product. Let’s hope this opportunity doesn’t go to waste.

No comments:

Post a Comment