How One Young Man’s Childhood Experiences Spurred the Movement to Build Homes Out of Plastic Bottles in Uganda

Johnmary Kavuma is a young man who overcame the most difficult obstacles throughout his childhood. Orphaned at a young age, he grew up with his beloved grandmother, and lost her too due to injuries sustained from their house collapsing on them due to its poor structural integrity and tumultuous weather. Johnmary took his pain and channeled it to ensure that no one would suffer the same fate as his grandmother.

In the country of Uganda, plastic waste is a prevalent issue that plagues communities, with a minority of the population practicing recycling behaviors due to limited recycling systems in place. To combat plastic pollution and improve homes throughout his country, Johnmary founded Upcycle Africa where he and his team collect plastic bottle waste to serve as the foundation of the homes.

“A fully upcycled house from plastic waste. The floor of the house is made out of eggshells and polythene bags, walls are constructed using PET plastic bottles, and the roof is made from old car tires. So we used what others call ‘waste’ to create a home for the poor.” – Johnmary Kavuma

His vision and mission:

“A Uganda free from plastic waste, creating a generation where waste is managed and recycled as their behavior.”

Upcycle Africa employs women to collect plastic waste and compact sand into the bottles, and at-risk youth who may otherwise engage in risky behaviors to construct the homes. They have removed 1.5 million plastic bottles from the waste stream and have employed 108 women who serve as waste collectors, and many more youth, and have built over 80 homes for the Nakivale refugee settlement, and in Bukomansimbi, Kampala, Kasanje, and Mpigi, which are heatproof, and more importantly weather resistant so they will not be destroyed or collapse in the event of a natural disaster. Additionally, they also work with more than 50 schools on a monthly basis to recover plastic waste and educate students on proper waste management. Johnmary is proud that his organization was selected as one of the winners for the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme in 2018. 

Johnmary (right) speaking about Upcycle Africa and his efforts to tackle plastic pollution in his country – view his speech here

Johnmary was invited to speak on the plenary stage at One Young World 2018 in The Hague this past October to voice the issues with plastic pollution in Uganda and how his organization Upcycle Africa is tackling plastic waste. In 2019, he intends to train and employ 100 more disadvantaged youth in East Africa as waste collectors, sorters, and constructors so they may build additional houses in South Africa. In five years, he expects to have trained a total of 1,000 young people. He is striving to build a social business standing for environmental and social impact, where his organization’s services contribute to a mindset shift in regards to waste and marginalized populations.

Follow more of Johnmary’s and Upcycle Africa’s efforts here.