By The Center of Regenerative Design and Collaboration

A local company is turning a ‘tragic plastic’ problem into a nation building solution. 

Imagine if all South Africa’s unrecycled plastic waste, at 1 100 000 million tons per year, could create thousands of jobs, clean our environment and help build our houses, hospitals, schools and roads.

Don Thompson, the CEO of The Center of Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC), is making this a reality through his invention of a process that can turn any plastic – dirty or clean and in any form – into the very building blocks of sustainable development.

The products, EcoArena PRA (Pre-Conditioned Resin Aggregate) and Ecoblock, are innovative environmentally friendly products which incorporate regenerated waste plastic particles combined with a standard sand-cement mixture to produce a highly resistant, durable cement or cement block, while providing a viable up-cycling usage of this waste material.

The product has been tested and applied in Costa Rica over the past two years with great success. CRDC is also collaborating with international US chemicals giant, Dow, in the development of EcoArena in a bid to develop a lead initiative for the alliance to end plastic waste.

In South Africa, CRDC has partnered with a leading operations company that has extensive expertise and a long track record in on-site waste management, plastic recycling, waste to energy and implementation of zero waste to landfill solutions.

The case study

In Costa Rica, Thompson has been working with Pedregal, the largest cement and concrete block company in the country, and in collaboration with DOW, the American multinational chemical corporation.

The aim is to use 4 000t of plastic waste a month for the EcoArena technology. The feasibility of the product as an environmental breakthrough is proven, and as a commercially viable and profitable commodity it also meets sustainable development requirements on all levels.

Pedregal began testing the use of EcoArena in their CMU concrete blocks, having achieved successful technical results and compliance with international standards (ASTM and C90). Pedregal then introduced EcoArena to all their concrete products under the prefix ECO.

Sales and marketing director of Pedregal, David Zamora, says, “This breakthrough in transforming plastic and using it in the same way as you would conventional aggregate is a game-changer. Not only can we conduct our business in a more sustainable way but we can also help solve one of the biggest problems we have created as human beings – that of plastic contamination. This is the very essence of our circular economy and one in which the construction industry is helping the plastic industry solve a waste problem by turning it back into a raw material that can be used in any construction on the planet.”

Key benefits of CRDC EcoArena product

In concrete and construction

  • 10% increase in strength
  • 8% to 16% decrease in weight (with 5% or 10% PRA)
  • Increase in thermal properties
  • Same fire resistance as with standard concrete
  • EcoArena PRA can be used in pressed concrete products, in bagged cement or poured concrete
  • Creates lower dependency on other raw materials
  • Obvious marketing benefits
  • Reduce cement industries’ carbon footprint and carbon tax bill (South Africa)


  • Supports and grows the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Reduces carbon footprints by eliminating plastic to landfill and plastic pollution (1t of mixed plastics going to landfill has an emissions factor of 21.3842kg CO2)
  • All types of plastic can be upcycled therefore no costly separation is required
  • Reduce plastic pollution in rivers, oceans, cities and impact on landfills
  • Supports zero waste to landfill, plastic producer responsibility, government programmes and initiatives
  • Waste plastic permanently eliminated from the environment
  • CRDC and EcoArena are foundation partners of Habitat for Humanity

Social and SMME

  • SMME and job creation from waste plastic collection, plastic shredding SMMEs and transportation
  • Cleaner cities and healthier environments
  • Support SMME concrete block manufacturers
  • Helps support the building of better social housing in Africa with a product that is stronger to benefit the environment and society

The case for upcycling plastic now

The UN wants individual countries to sign up to significantly reduce plastic production, including a phasing out of single-use plastics by 2030 – a goal inspired by the 2015 Paris Agreement on voluntary reductions of carbon emissions.

“South Africa currently consumes 1.5Mt of plastic annually, of which only 21% is recycled.”

“Plastic is a very good material, it’s durable, flexible and light,” says Siim Kiisler, UN Environment Assembly president and Estonia’s environment minister. “This means we should make the best out of it for as long as possible instead of disposing of it.”

Why South Africa?

South Africa currently consumes 1.5Mt of plastic annually, of which only 21% is recycled. The rest ends up in land fill, in rivers, on beaches and in our oceans. A recycling programme is urgently needed.

Cleaning up plastic is not an easy task and it costs money to manage waste; all this bad news does not make for happy reading. At the same time, industry and commerce, retailers and consumers are seeking better ways to work with plastic and most assume that the abolition or drastic reduction of the culprit plastic is the best solution.

Thompson used to be consumed by a hatred for plastic, until he realised that it was necessary to work with, and within, the plastic industry to combat the enormous waste problem. After an arduous and interesting journey of anti-plastic activism, Thompson, an engineer, entrepreneur and environmentalist, invented a product that uses plastic in all and any waste form.

At a time when the world is in outcry about ‘tragic plastic’ in our oceans, the CRDC that also works with the Ocean Recovery Alliance, has created not only a foolproof solution but also a game-changer for using plastic waste in a commercially viable manner. By delivering an effective environmental solution, EcoArena also provides a compelling answer to some of South Africa’s societal problems.

CRDC will test EcoArena PRA with two major concrete manufacturers in the Western Cape as well as a major South African cement producer. Thompson adds, “In South Africa, there is an established and sophisticated cement industry. Against this, we need to create jobs, we need to clean up the environment and there is an urgent need for housing. Our plan is to use the Costa Rican model to initially launch in the Western Cape before rolling out the initiative nationally.”

Thompson explains that Costa Rica is a small market (five million people) compared to South Africa, which is more developed and has as many if not more pressing social needs. The long-term plan for EcoArena is to take it to the first world.

*The South African Government recognises the role that waste plays in creating jobs and providing socio-economic opportunities and in moving South Africa towards a more resource efficient economy. This is evident in the number of initiatives and legislative reforms that have been proposed by government to boost growth in this sector.

*Source:  Green Cape 2018 Waste Market Intelligence Report

The product and process

EcoArena incorporates regenerated waste plastic particles with a standard sand-cement mixture to create a highly resistant, durable cement, concrete block or any formed concrete product. Each block contains 260g of plastic, none of which needs to be separated, cleaned or treated in any way – even if it contains sand or is contaminated. Very little water is used in the process. The resultant block represents a five to 10% decrease in total weight compared to a standard concrete block.

The process begins upon the disposal and recovery of the waste plastic, after which the obtained material is converted to a solid mass via heat extrusion. It is then ground to the required particle specifications. After this processing phase, the resulting mixed-polymer aggregate is incorporated directly into a mixer with a sand-cement mixture. Once a homogeneous mixture is achieved the moulding process for creating the standard block begins and emerges, showing no visible difference from traditional concrete aggregates.

The subsequent product is equal in terms of resistance and mechanical characteristics to a traditional concrete block – the only difference is that it is considerably lighter and stronger. While effectively using a large quantity of plastic waste and eliminating it from landfills with the attendant benefits of also reducing CO2 emissions. EcoArena helps to reduce carbon footprints for municipalities, plastic manufacturers and the cement and concrete industries.

Thompson explains, “The objective is to create a platform where single-use plastics may be transitioned into a supply stream for high-quality construction materials while providing a solution to two of the world´s most pressing issues: the recovery of waste plastics from the environment and the global housing deficit. Every sector of society, including the underprivileged and homeless, stands to benefit from the application of this innovation and plan.”


  1. The South African waste management landscape is set to experience a raft of legislative and regulatory changes that will advance the country towards a more resource-efficient economy. This will create opportunities for business and investors in the waste sector who focus on plastics, organics, e-waste and construction and demolition waste.
  2. The promulgation of the paper and packaging IndWMP will unlock greater volumes of clean feedstocks and more business support for the sector, with additional support likely through Operation Phakisa. There is a need for thermal treatment technologies for dirty mixed plastics, refuse derived fuels (RDF) and thermoform PET.

Source:  The Green Cape Market Intelligence Report 2018