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Simple technologies help locals turn their waste into resources

WasteAid’s initial research phase looked at the composition of waste in the market town of Brikama, in western Gambia.

We then looked at the capacity of the area council, private sector and community groups to collect waste.

This was a real eye-opener: most of the country’s waste is simply not collected, being left to local communities to deal with. The council has eight tractors, each with a capacity of five tonnes so, on a good day, when all vehicles are working, it has the capacity to collect 40 tonnes of waste. But around 350 tonnes is produced every day in the municipality.

So how do we get everyone else – local communities and private individuals – to collect the waste? Quite simply, WasteAid UK makes it worth their while by selecting a variety of simple reprocessing technologies to start turning rubbish into resources.

Perhaps our biggest success has been in organic waste briquetting. We found that around 40% of municipal waste is organic and the major source of fuel for cooking is locally made charcoal, which is a major cause of deforestation in Gambia and neighbouring Senegal. Joining these two problems together, we started to research the potential for widely available carbon-rich organic wastes. From this, in partnership with local partner Women’s Initiative The Gambia, and using a basic briquetting technology developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab, we started developing charcoal briquettes.

It has gone much better than we ever dared hope. Widely available wastes, including mango and cashew nut leaves, coconut waste and paper, are carbonised in a simple oil drum set-up. Oxygen access is reduced and the drum left for around 30 minutes, then mixed with cassava starch, pounded and briquetted.

Leave these to dry for couple of days and they can be used on stoves or to brew attaya, the potent local tea. The waste is widely available, the technology is simple and demand for the end market is widely established. What’s more, the business case is watertight: our research shows that a profit of D1,000 (£15) a day can be made – in a country where a labourer earns D1,500 a month.

WasteAid UK has also looked at simple plastic reprocessing, using a technology developed by the Living Earth Foundation, to develop flooring tiles. Each slab contains around 2.5kg of LDPE, widely used as plastic bags and water bags. Our analysis found that around 20% of all waste in the area was plastic and 60% of this plastic was film LDPE. The slabs retail for around D30.

All of this recycling activity creates jobs and distributes wealth – we are now paying D5 per kilogram for people to bring us waste plastic and organic waste. This creates an incentive for individuals to collect waste, helping to fill in that collection gap.

To increase waste diversion, WasteAid UK has built a training centre in Brikama to host local waste entrepreneurs, take in waste from the nearby market and demonstrate benefits of the technologies more widely. The site has been refurbished with covered areas, secure storage, running water, toilets and showers. Entrepreneurs will be able to develop their businesses, and it will host the briquetting and plastic recycling operations.

The charity is also building a composting site using a range of locally appropriate techniques along with a mulling site to produce animal feed and manure from fish waste. We have helped Women’s Initiative The Gambia to train others on appropriate techniques, and the group has now trained 15 waste pickers.

The word will now be spread to five other communities, and they will be provided with reprocessing kits to start management of their own waste in their communities – key when you have to deal with your own rubbish.

Dealing with waste and adding value

Dealing with organic waste, specifically, the project aimed to:

  • Add value to woody/carbon-rich organic waste by torrefaction (charcoaling), feeding into the local thriving charcoal market and to reduce the deforestation this causes
  • Investigate the potential for fish meal production from dedicated fish waste outlets in Brikama market – this is working in Senegal. The project wants to see how fish waste can be used as plant and animal feed
  • Manage residual organic waste through composting, replacing expensive NPK fertilisers
  • Reprocess plastic film into construction materials including paving slabs, gutters and sanitary toilet holes  

 Mike Webster is WasteAid UK chair and project manager

Simple technologies help locals turn their waste into resources

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