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Busting the Myth – Recycling Multilayer Material is a Real Possibility

Single-use flexible packaging can and is being recycled, and furthermore recycled into dignified and sustainable housing for the ultra-poor.

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The Waste Issue

Single-use multi-material and multilayer flexible packaging is becoming an increasing worldwide issue and a global focus area. Yet, despite billions of US Dollars being spent on finding a recycling solution to this material, to date, no viable answer has been found for this growing waste stream.

This packaging often requires a combination of several layers of different plastics to provide optimum barrier protection. This packaging has proved to be among the most effective forms of packaging when it comes to volume reduction, shelf life extension and food waste prevention. Their use in the packaging industry is therefore increasing as this can visibly be seen on supermarket shelves, and more concerning, in our streets, rivers and oceans. 

The challenge for this type of packaging is at its end-of-life. The general assumption is that it can’t be recycled, and even if it can theoretically be done, the resulting raw material is of such poor quality that it effectively amounts to “down-cycling” and/or is not economically viable. 

RWPA Solutions, a start-up based in South Africa, owned and managed by me (Karam Hirji, a British citizen), has developed a world-first process, proving that it is possible to create an end use out of the mix of waste packaging film, which can be used to develop products of genuine value to society.

The recycling methodology involves two stages:

·      Firstly, converting the mix of waste packaging film into a recyclate; and

·      Secondly, converting the recyclate into building materials.

The first stage involves low cost machinery, which is key to the solution’s scalability. Both processes do not involve the use of any water, which is key to its sustainability.

Core to this is the ability to use this recyclate as the main material in the construction of affordable housing, crèches, schools and clinics, amounting to true “up-cycling”. The reusability of the building materials made from the recyclate means they can be recycled numerous times thereafter, thus creating a true circular economy. 

The Housing Solution

There is an immediate need for over 100 million low-cost dwellings in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Governments, Charities and the Private Sector, this requirement continues to grow. The main issue being cost.

Because the main raw material for this housing solution is waste that is recycled into the building materials, the cost of these units is far lower than a typical house. These units are designed to go on any type of land (no concrete foundation is required, meaning unflat or rubbled land is suitable), further reducing the cost requirement. These cost benefits mean replicability and scalability is possible. 

The issues faced in informal settlements are well known. Temporary structures made of corrugated metal (or similar materials) are unsafe and unhygienic, creating precarious living conditions. Added to that, climate change has resulted in flash floods and/or fires that devastate these settlements.

The housing solution is specifically designed to address these issues:

·      The house designed to be raised off the ground on plastic poles made from the waste described above. This ensures that flash floods do not hit the house itself. The use of plastic as opposed to wood also ensures an increased hygiene factor as rats and termites cannot enter the building.

·      The building itself is a wood-plastic-composite (WPC) clad structure. This WPC cladding, also made from the waste described above, is designed in a manner to provide strength, thermal insulation, and air and water resistance.

This solution not only solves the global issue of flexible packaging in our streets, rivers and oceans, but also provides a dignified standard of living in the gap sector to those that need it the most.

Pilot Programme


The housing solution meets regulatory standards and the proof of concept building has been approved by the City of Johannesburg Building Control amongst others. Technical tests and assessments have been performedand approved in relation to:

·       Structural strength andstability;

·       Durability;

·       Behaviour in relationto fire;

·       Resistance to waterpenetration and rising damp;

·       Thermal, energy andcondensation performance; and

·       Acoustic performance; 

This first pilot programme entails the building of three classrooms and one WC unit, to serve as an early childhood development (ECD) centre. An ECD centre has been selected as the first pilot programme to demonstrate daily extensive use of the buildings byup to one hundred school children.


RWPA has identified a reputable charity based in Johannesburg as the beneficiary of these units and the planning of this ECD centre has commenced. The build stage will commence by 1st September 2017 and be completed within 4-6 weeks.


A second pilot programme is scheduled at the end of 2017 for a first mini housing complex for full time occupancy.

Idea Title

Waste to Dignity - Recycling Household Waste into an Affordable and Sustainable Housing Solution.

Company / Organization Name

RWPA Solution (Pty) Ltd – Rural Waste and Poverty Alleviation


Where are you / your team located?

South Africa and the UK

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Single-use multi-material and multilayer flexible packaging can and is being recycled. We can have the benefits that this packaging brings, whilst also being able to recycle this packaging into a high social impact end use. Redesigning these packages is once solution. Finding a solution to their current format is another.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

This innovative, sustainable and scalable solution applies to the recycling of single-use multi-material and multi-layer flexible packaging (Use Case 1), a global issue we all currently face.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Single-use flexible packaging is a global issue we all currently face. This sustainable and scalable solution applies worldwide. The waste is unlimited; the housing shortage is unlimited; the geographic area is therefore unlimited.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Because the first stage of the recycling methodology involves low cost machinery, the increase in scale would result from having numerous satellite recycling centres across South Africa, acting as hubs for the waste in surrounding areas, where the first stage of the process would occur. These hubs would then send the material to a centralised converting plant where the second stage would occur. The added benefit is the numerous job that would be created in all these satellite locations.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Becoming a Top Idea and working with the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Program will help mobilise this solution. This could be in the form of: • Linking RWPA to key partners in the low-cost housing environment in South Africa. • Lobbying Government to encourage the building of these units. • Showcasing this solution at various networking events. • Help fundraising for the manufacturing roll out and erection of houses.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

RWPA stands for Rural Waste and Poverty Alleviation. The company was started to utilise rural waste to address poverty alleviation. Research and development work focused on household waste in general and then particularly to single-use multi-material and multilayer flexible packaging. The end use application of housing is the key alleviating factor of poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Tell us about your work experience

I am a qualified Mechanical Engineer (University of Bristol) and Chartered Accountant (ACA). I have worked in finance at BDO LLP and management consultancy at BT PLC before starting RWPA Solutions.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

RWPA Solutions is a Proprietary (Pty) Limited company based in South Africa.

Attachments (1)

ECD Programme.pdf

ECD Centre planned in Johannesburg, South Africa using this solution


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