Plastic Recycling

Cleaning Africa through product design - a field study regarding plastic recycling and sustainable product development in Zanzibar


This Master’s thesis was carried out at the department of Product and Production Development at Chalmers University of Technology by Anna Engström and Ellen Österdahl, master students at the program Industrial Design Engineering. The project was performed in cooperation with Zanrec Plastics, a small Swedish company aiming at introducing a scalable plastic recycling system in developing countries, starting in the island of Zanzibar, just outside the coast of Tanzania in East Africa.

The aim of the project was to utilize recycled plastic material as a basis for development of a new product, made partially or fully from recycled plastic. The aim was also to identify needs on the local market that could be fulfilled by this plastic product. The local market was defined as East Africa with a primary focus on the island of Zanzibar. The developed product should be a part of Zanrec Plastics’ business concept, meaning that it should be a sustainable product, well adapted to the local society, and that it should be produced locally in Zanzibar.

In the first phase of the project, a theoretical pre-study was carried out and then followed by a seven week-long field study in Zanzibar. General cultural observations and several interviews with local people were performed during the field study, giving the project group new insights and knowledge regarding the East African culture. A number of interesting needs and areas for future product development was identified, and after consulting Zanrec Plastics and supervisors, school furniture was selected as the most interesting area. The current need for functional school furniture in Zanzibar is big, and it is need that most likely can be translated to other developing parts of the world.

The product development phase was carried out at Chalmers in Sweden. With respect to the gained knowledge regarding the local market and its environment, and with respects to other important considerations, such as ergonomics, several demands and requirements for the school furniture were defined. A number of concepts were developed and evaluated against these demands in an iterative process. The concept that best fulfilled the demands and the requirements from both the user, Zanrec Plastics, and potential investors, was then further developed.
The final result is a unique set of modular school furniture, made entirely out of plastic material. The furniture have been design to fit primary school children in East Africa, meaning that the furniture are ergonomically adapted to the children, providing them with better work spaces than the current furniture. As Zanrec Plastics wishes to educate the local community in terms of sustainability and recycling, these new school furniture will work as excellent educational products within an educational environment. The modularity of the furniture makes them easy to transport and thus facilitates export to other areas in need.

The products can be produced locally in Zanzibar and assembled only using a few local tools. The result of this Master’s thesis is consequently a sustainable outcome that includes both social and environmental sustainability aspects, as it provides work opportunities in the local community as well as introduces a life cycle opportunity for plastic material.

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