Two 'green' entrepreneurs become UNEP Young Champions

One winner manufactures building materials out of recycled plastic waste, the other developed a web platform for efficient tree planting

In Summary

•UNEP was looking for artists, scientists, economists, communicators and entrepreneurs from all walks of life who have big, bold ideas – for the environment, for humanity, for a greener future.

• Two Kenyans among seven global winners, each to receive Sh1 million seed money to expand ventures. 

UNEP Young Champion Nzambi Mathee.
CHAMPION: UNEP Young Champion Nzambi Mathee.
UNEP Young Champion in Richard Wambua.
HERO: UNEP Young Champion in Richard Wambua.

Two Kenyan eco-entrepreneurs have been honoured by the UN – one for producing building materials from recycled plastic, another for developing a platform for systematic tree planting.

Nzambi Matee and Richard Wambua are Young Champions of the Earth 2020. They are among seven global winners in the UN Environment Programme.

They were recognized for scalable, innovative and potentially high-impact solutions to pressing environmental challenges.


Each gets about Sh1 million in seed money to expand their ventures.

UNEP was looking for artists, scientists, economists, communicators and entrepreneurs from all walks of life who have big, bold ideas – for the environment, humanity and a greener future.

Wambua's web-based platform recommends the best tree species to plant given the climate and soil conditions of a given area. The aim is make tree planting more systematic, with trees more likely to survive.

The platform enables users to analyse and visualise data to monitor tree survival rates across the country, through drones and satellite imagery.

The platform has been praised by the Environment ministry for contributing to attaining 10 per cent forest cover by 2022.

Matee's company manufactures affordable building products from recycles plastic waste.

Nairobi generates about 500 tons of waste daily.

The 28-year-old materials engineer said there is also huge deficit of affordable houses – about two million, increasing by about 200,000 annually.

“Sixty per cent of the cost of a project is building products,” she said.

Her company, Gjenge Makers, has made a niche for itself producing beautiful and sustainable building materials.

Currently it is producing eco-friendly road pavers made of a composite of recycled waste plastic and sand.

The company has partnered with manufacturers of plastics bottle tops and seals in the beverage and pharmaceutical industries.

It has empowered more than 112 people, mostly women and youth who are partners in supplying the waste and pre-processing.

Demand exceeds supply and the biggest problem is low production capacity. It produces about 500 to 1,000 paving bricks a day, recycling about 500kg plastic waste daily.

The Young Champions challenge celebrates and supports people between ages 18 and 30 who have outstanding potential to create a positive environmental impact.

The two Kenyans join others from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, West Asia, Asia and the Pacific.

They will attend a high-level UN meeting, be introduced to dignitaries Champions of the Earth award ceremony and receive recognition through interviews with global media.

In the competition, entrants were required to share their work on the UNEP website through videos and blogs for as long as a year.

Each winner is expected to implement their big idea and keep UNEP updated by producing videos and blogs for the website.

 (Edited by V. Graham)


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