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Newly made Zoë pump valves

Precious Plastic

16 days. That was on my mind after landing in Lilongwe. 16 days to test out new ideas that Éamonn and I had been discussing over countless whatsapp and videochat-talks over the last few months.


When I was in the pump-factory the first time in November & December I simplified a few things and introduced a CNC-Machine to cut valves. So the process was to turn down a 65mm full-rod on the Lathe – chop the resulting rod into small discs, insert 4, 8, 12 or 16 of them into the CNC and start the machining. I don’t remember the exact numbers but in the whole process we had to waste more than 80% of the raw-material in this manufacturing-process. Blue PVC-chips that we had to get rid of in the usual way in Malawi – darkening the skies over Mzuzu. We had been collecting those chips for a long time in the hope of being able to recycle them at some stage.


In the weeks before my trip I read a lot about plastic-recycling on – and I got a lot of help from Tajdar Khan who is a plastics-engineer in Mannheim whom I “met” in the forum on the precious plastics website. Thanks to his input and constant support I was able to build a plastic-injection-hand-machine and CNC-machine moulds for the small and big valves, and now our pump making process is completely different.


Now we recycle destroyed and unusable potting-tubes (black plastic tubes) from our planting trees program to make valves via plastic-injection. We also get the Girl Child Students to collect plastic bags off the streets and we transform those in Zoë pump valves too!

We were supported by Speth Königsbronn and Metall Schafner Schnaitheim, as well as Vassiliy Mynko. Without them it would have been more or less impossible to build that setup and I am very thankful for their help!


The process is very simple: tie a few knots on plastic bags – it is also possible to do a mix of plastic bags found on the streets in Mzuzu with the old potting tubes, insert them into the machine – compact them with the plunger – insert the mould and inject the mix.


Like this we made about 60 valves in one day – with material cost of ZERO.


Sadly it is not really possible to recycle the PVC-chips but we will use them in the slabs to strengthen the concrete.


I believe we are the very first plastic-recyclers in whole Malawi now… As the pump design is also completely changed we will not buy full rod material in the future anymore so the PVC-chips will also be a thing of the past very soon!

On our way to Malawi we realised that the plastic cups could be great material to recycle as well so we asked the Ethiopian Airlines Crew if they could collect all plastic cups for us. They thought we were mad but kindly obliged.

Check out our video about this:

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