ENTREPRENEURS: Tsiloane sisters break barriers with plastic bricks
From trash to walls: dynamic sisters create a construction brick made using plastic waste
Two young sisters are breaking barriers with bricks. With an invention that uses plastic to create bricks for construction, Kedibone, 30, and Kekeletso Tsiloane, 27, have found a real-world solution to plastic waste.
The sisters are the founders of Ramtsilo, a construction business named after their grandmother. Ramtsilo was created to address the high levels of plastic waste found all around us.
For months, the Tsiloanes melted different types of plastic and mixed it with sand. Eventually they created what has become the Plastibrick, a durable product stronger than cement bricks, with a longer building lifespan and less water requirements. And it is fire-retardant too.
Kedibone says when their brick was tested, it was found to have lower water-absorption rates and higher compressive strength than normal bricks, making it ideal for insulation and energy efficiency.
The pair created Ramtsilo in 2013 and registered the business in the same year.
The sisters are no strangers to the world of construction. The Free State-born pair have memories of being taken on site with their father — who owned a construction company — when they were children.
Kekeletso, who trained as an engineer, has a passion for reducing waste and creating a greener environment and came up with the idea for Plastibrick.
She recalls an early-morning chance encounter with an elderly waste collector, who was rummaging through garbage.
"Her story touched me," she says. "I was bothered by waste but I wasn’t able to make a difference by reducing its impact as she had.
"When she told me that she uses the income she gets from selling waste to feed her grandkids and afford medication, I knew then that I wanted to find an opportunity based around plastic waste," Kekeletso says.
Soon after, she pitched the idea of a brick made of plastic to her sister and the idea for their company was born.
Kedibone, who left her career in finance and auditing to make a success of Ramtsilo, says it took months to create the brick. Their next step was taking it for testing at Civilab, a mining and civil engineering lab that tests industry products. The results surprised even the sisters, and they took the product to market.
They sell mostly to small-scale contractors.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Apart from having to convince their mother to accommodate recycled plastic in her small garden, they paid more than R100,000 to have their product tested, and another R50,000 to market their product at exhibitions. And they have found themselves overcoming quarrels with waste pickers for dumped plastic at landfills. The sisters obtain their plastic from waste collectors, landfills and households.
But coming to terms with being doubted and criticised in the world of construction, simply because of their gender, has been one of their hardest lessons.
"People tend to doubt you just by looking at you," says Kedibone. "The biggest challenge for me is that people don’t take us seriously as young businesswomen."
And educating people on how best to use their product has also been tricky. The Plastibrick requires the use of less water and less cement. Builders who haven’t taken time to listen to the sisters later reject the bricks because they have failed to use the right measurements for optimal use.
But no challenge is too difficult for the sisters, who are thoroughly pleased with the reception their product has received.
"I don’t think we expected the results we got from testing," says Kekeletso. "All of those added benefits are not things that we foresaw. It shocked us and also motivated us. We know now that this is great. This is beyond what we were trying to do."