Kibera, Kenya – Community Turns Garbage Into Energy Source
A community-based organisation in the Kenyan slum area of Kibera set out to clean up garbage and deal with waste water; Ushiriki Wa Safi ended up creating a community cooker that turns waste into an energy source.
Open sewers and piles of garbage are an all too familiar scene in many of Kenya’s poorest urban areas. Local authorities are invisible in most of these slums, and poor public hygiene and the absence of sanitation leaves residents to their own devices to maintain a level of cleanliness and keep diseases like diarrhoea at bay.
But some have seen this as an opportunity to bring about change to communities. Ushirika Wa Safi – (loosely translated, the name means “an association to maintain cleanliness” in Swahili) – a community-based organisation in Kibera, was formed to deal with the garbage problem in Laini Saba, one of the thirteen villages that form Kibera slums, often described as Africa’s largest.
The CBO has come up with a remarkable solution in the form of a community cooker that turns garbage into energy. It is a recycling project that is transforming the lives of local residents.
CAIRO—The Coptic monastery of St. Samaan overlooks Zabaleen, Arabic for Garbage City, which gets its name from the primary source of income for its 60,000 inhabitants: garbage collection and disposal.
The church carved into the mountain is dedicated to the legend that Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority performed a miracle by moving a mountain by faith to thwart threats of extermination.
“So we can make a mountain move, why can’t we recycle the garbage?” said Ezzat Naem. Naem, 45, grew up in Garbage City. His father was a garbage man. And his grandfather was the city’s first garbage collector. “He was an innovator, like me,” Naem said.
In 2008, USAID awarded Naem a two-year, $34,000 grant to support his creation, a community recycling school. It was one of 22 grants made by the Agency and the Synergos Institute, through the Arab World Social Innovators Program, to support entrepreneurial humanitarian men and women in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abd Elghany Hamady Barakat, who was born blind into an underprivileged family, seamlessly maneuvers the new American University in Cairo campus. Barakat received a USAID scholarship to attend AUC, where he is majoring in political science and international relations. He said he hopes to start the university’s first club for disabled students.
At the recycling school, students as young as 9 learn Excel, Photoshop, and other computer skills which are part of a real-life recycling business. Students create their own spreadsheets and chart how many bottles they’ve collected, their worth, and their profit.
The school generates about $10,000 annually from recycling products like shampoo bottles. And students learn mathematics, reading, and writing with the goal of starting their own recycling businesses.
Children in Garbage City wake up at 9 p.m. and work with their fathers until 2 a.m. before returning home with recyclables found in Cairo streets. The women work into the morning sorting their finds while their sons attend Naem’s community school.
“In the beginning, I didn’t even know how to write my name, and now I’m doing mathematics, and I know how to use the computer,” said Ibrahim Bakhit, 13, who collects recyclable cardboard with his father at night. “I insist on learning. I want to know a lot of things.”
In addition to garbage sorting, Garbage City residents earn income from pig farming. Pigs consumed 60 percent of organic garbage before Egyptian officials made the animals illegal earlier this year and slaughtered them in a nationwide response to H1N1, also called swine flu, even though there is no evidence the disease is spread by pigs.
Moreover, without pigs to dispose of the waste, trash piled up, causing environmental damage. Incomes were further cut when the Egyptian government contracted three multinational corporations to collect the city’s garbage. But the townspeople found a substitute in recycling.
The school remains largely for boys—following Egyptian cultural standards—but after-hours computer workshops recently began for girls and mothers.
The city smells of garbage. Enormous bags of trash are piled on rooftops, in doorways, in alleyways, and strewn about the streets.
But Naem’s students have seen the alternative.
“We are so happy when we go on field trips, spend time together, and smell fresh air,” said Naem, who kept his hometown and family business secret until he revealed it in a composition that was praised by his teachers. He has since gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree in commerce.
As a 12-year-old, Naem wrote in his composition: “If a minister or the president, himself, is absent for a week, his vice can replace him. But if a garbage collector is absent, no one can replace him.”
Ethiopia firm recycling tyres into shoes does big business via internet
SoleRebels offers inspiration
Old truck tyres never die, they just turn into sandals. For decades that has been the tradition in Ethiopia, where everyone from farmers to guerrilla fighters has fashioned worn-out road rubber into cheap, long-lasting footwear.
But now, thanks to a young woman entrepreneur who has combined the internet’s selling power with nimble business practices more often associated with Asian countries, the idea has been turned into an unlikely international hit. By adding funky cotton and leather uppers to recycled tyre soles, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has sold many thousands of pairs of handmade flip-flops, boat shoes, loafers and Converse-style trainers to foreign customers.
In the run-up to Christmas, workers at the soleRebels “factory” – a small house on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital – were frantically cutting, sewing and gluing to fulfil internet purchases from customers as far away as Canada and Australia. Alemu’s brother packed pairs of cotton and suede trainers into a box about to be couriered to Amazon.com, the company’s main customer, which receives the shoes in the US three to five days after placing its bulk order. “We are sitting in Addis Ababa but acting like an American company,” said Alemu, an excitable 30-year-old former accountant who is fond of reeling off the numbers that illustrate her firm’s rapid growth.
Just five years after start-up, soleRebels employs 45 full-time staff who can produce up to 500 pairs of shoes a day. More will be hired after next month once the footwear range, priced between £21 and £40, goes on sale online in the UK and Japan on Amazon’s new footwear website javari.co.uk. The company’s sales target for 2010 is an impressive £300,000, but Alemu’s ultimate goal – one she seems deadly serious about – is far loftier: to become “the Timberland or Skechers of Africa”.
The success of soleRebels, which has thrived in the global market with no outside support other than a government line of credit to help meet large orders, is challenging preconceptions both about Ethiopia and the best way to lift its people out of poverty.
Trashy Fashion From India
Plastic bags are a plague. They can be found in just about every corner of the planet— in fields, trees, rivers, oceans and even in the stomachs of birds and sea creatures around the globe.
They don’t biodegrade in landfills and almost every piece of plastic ever made is still in existence today.
Enter Anita Ahuja, founder and president of Conserve, based in India. Anita has come up with a way to upcycle the plastic bags plaguing her region and also help numerous people find gainful employment. The result is Conserve’s stunning range of bags made from recycled plastic. We caught up with Anita to ask her a few questions about her fashionable eco-bags and her amazing enterprise.
Please tell us a bit about Conserve.
Along with support and encouragement from my family and friends I established Conserve, a non-profit organization in 1998 with a mandate to work in the area of energy efficiency and waste management. In 2002, Conserve started working on developing an alternative recycling or rather up-cycling process that uses abundantly and freely available bags as a resource for income generation for the urban poor through their conversion into a “renewed” material which we call HRP – Handmade Recycled Plastic.
Conserve has trained people from urban slums of Delhi to process waste into recycled sheets, which is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than conventional recycling processes. This process converts used polythene bags into a ‘renewed’ innovative material with significantly different properties and great visual appeal, without the use of any additional colour or dyes.
Conserve’s process of recycling is far more environmentally and energy friendly than the conventional plastic recycling process. Moreover, it is very good for the environment as it uses existing everyday skills of local people. Now Conserve is supporting nearly 100 rag pickers and has about 50 employees working for them.