Aiming to reduce pollution and expand his country’s limited housing options, a South African inventor has created Nubrix, a brick made of recycled paper, France 24's The Observers reports.

Elijah Djan, 21, is an industrial engineering student at the University of Pretoria. His innovative construction material has been years in the making: As a kid, Djan witnessed his father, a lecturer, burning old textbooks, and was inspired to take action. “I knew that it was bad for the environment, but my dad said he wouldn’t stop doing it unless I had a better idea for how to use the paper,” Djan says.

Djan watched a documentary on South Africa’s low-income housing shortage (as of 2011, nearly 2 million of the nation's families lived in shacks and informal dwellings), and a business plan was born. A prototype for his brick scored Djan, then 11 years old, a national science prize; later, he tested the design and even built a still-standing wall from the bricks in his own backyard.

To turn Nubrix into a viable commercial product, Djan says he needs a regulatory board's official certification of approval. For this to happen, the bricks need to be tested for fire resistance, water penetration, thermal capability, durability, and acoustics. Djan now has both the money and the opportunity to see if his product can meet requirements: In late 2016, the student won first place in the Gauteng Accelerator Programme (GAP) Innovation Competitions. The prize was €14,000 (nearly $15,000), and the chance to collaborate with mentors on his project.

“For me, these bricks are just a start. Eventually, I want to create all different construction materials made from recycled products,” Djan says. Considering that South Africans produced 108 million tons of waste in 2011 [PDF], and less than 10 percent of it was recycled, his ambition couldn’t be more timely—or necessary.

[h/t France 24 The Observers]