Would you like outdoor furniture that looks like timber, never needs varnishing or any protection from sun and rain, doesn’t rot and will never be eaten by termites? Furniture that’s strong and durable, hygienic and easily cleaned, as well as being extremely affordable and environmentally friendly? Well, that’s exactly what Alternative Timber is offering.
Alternative Timber is originally a South African-based company, the brain child of Willie Reitz, who has a recycling and manufacturing company just outside Johannesburg. Zimbabwean born Samson Gwatinyanya worked there for 8 years learning about every aspect of production and eventually becoming the head of the factory. He even went to Germany for a 6 month further training course. He’s recently returned to Zimbabwe to set up a similar company here.
The process recycles all types of plastic waste to create new products ranging from jungle gyms to decking, from school furniture to fencing – in fact just about anything made from timber can be reproduced. The process is innovative in that it uses all types of plastic, whereas most recycling processes only use one particular type of plastic, like High Density (HD), or Low Density (LD), or PET. This means that he’ll be able to recycle just about anything, including plastic bags, old plastic containers and even the outer casings from car batteries and plastic car bumpers. When his factory is up and running he’ll have the capacity to process 700,000 tonnes of waste plastic every month.
Considering the fact that most plastic is fairly light weight, that would be an enormous amount of refuse and litter removed from our streets, drains and dumpsites. He has already engaged the local councillors and has been allocated a stand in Chitungwiza where he has started the process of collecting waste ready for when the machines are set up and hungry for material to recycle.
The project will benefit the community in many ways – it will provide employment for waste collectors and waste harvesters as well as for the factory workers and ultimately the people who will be retailing the finished products. Unemployment in all the high density suburbs is reaching crisis proportions leading to other social problems like crime and drug and alcohol abuse, so any form of employment creation is vital. The surrounding neighbourhoods will have a lot less litter on the streets and it will relieve the pressure on the already overburdened council as there will be far less waste to collect. There will be much less going to council dumpsites, ending up in illegal dumpsites, or worse still being burnt. Fewer trees will be cut down for building materials or fencing so it’s easier on the environment.
The recycled products are a lot more affordable than the equivalent product made from timber. A timber fencing pole or dropper costs around $20, whereas the equivalent product made from recycled plastic costs around $1.20. This means that poorer schools, which previously struggled to afford even the most basic desks and chairs for their students, will be able to buy furniture at a fraction of the cost. The furniture made from plastic waste is extremely strong and durable and will last longer than the usual wooden desks and chairs and even if it does get broken it can be repaired or recycled again.
There’s even the possibility that the project will help to alleviate the chronic housing shortage. The equivalent of a wooden cabin can be made from their recycled planks at a hugely reduced cost. The plastic planks are easy to work with, totally waterproof, fire retardant, provide better sound and heat insulation, can be painted and decorated just like wood and will last much longer.
Although Gwatinyanya’s project is not yet fully operational locally he can take orders for products to be sent up from South Africa, which takes around 7 days for delivery.
You can view their products at alternativetimber.co.za or call Mr Gwatinyanya on 0782 106 868 for more information.