By Paul Ndiho
Many Africans use charcoal for cooking but the effects over the years have been disastrous for the continent’s forests. However, in Kenya, an energy saving cooking stove fueled entirely by trash is making a buzz on both the local and international scene.
A revolutionary cooker invented in Kenya and powered entirely by garbage has won several international ingenuity awards. The giant stove has transformed the lives of people living in several poor communities in the east African country. Now, orders for the cooker are flowing in from abroad, as far as Britain and Bali.
Families used to spend hours bending over a hot smokey charcoal stove preparing their meals.
The stove uses plastic bags, food cartons, cardboard boxes, old clothes and other discarded rubbish found in slums in and around Naivasha, a market town located in Kenya’s rift valley region. The giant furnace burns plastics and other garbage at 800 degrees centigrade– and the energy generated is then used to fuel a giant cooker. The home grown rubbish burning stove was introduced to the community six months ago and already it has helped to provide a cleaner environment and a faster, cheaper way for people to cook food.
“It saves me money because i don’t use paraffin. I come here with my food, I cook and then I go home.”
The stove was invented by architects at the design firm, planning systems services in Nairobi. Getting the cooker to heat the rubbish at temperatures high enough to burn off any noxious fumes took several years to perfect. A prototype for the cooker was finally built last year and since then the design has picked up several international innovation awards.
Janice Muthui, who heads the foundation set up to run the project, says the interest it has attracted internationally has been great for the company, but persuading people that garbage can be used as fuel is always a challenge.
“We know that it’s sound, that the technology is sound and we’re getting all these awards, international awards because they really do believe in the technology but now what we really need to do are get the community on board. Of course we’ve had issues, people thinking… Rubbish, cooking my food… I mean my old socks could actually be making my next meal you know. So those are the kind of things that we have to try and overcome and we’re still working on it.”
The first people to buy into the idea were the owners of a flower farm in Naivasha. The farm generates a lot of waste and many of the workers live in nearby slums where people are often forced to live alongside piles of trash.
The farm bought a cooker to help improve lives of its workers and bring the fair-trade company in line with international eco-friendly standards.
David Musyoka from the flower farm group says it has been so transformative for his community, that he hopes the idea will spread to other parts of the country.
“If it can be built everywhere in Kenya in each county if it can get this, everywhere will be clean,”
So far, there are two cookers operating in Naivasha and another one in Nairobi’s Kibera slum. Environmentalists say this could potentially change the way people use the traditional means of cooking because it’s cleaner and cheaper. Kenya is among the countries that are looking to develop its geothermal, wind, solar, hydropower– and its home grown fuel-efficient cook stoves.