The Waste to Clean Air Project implements a holistic, closed loop concept in which sludge from pit latrines is treated to produce biogas, compost, and irrigation water. The project is currently being piloted in the Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Uganda and aims to provide residents with safe sanitation, nutritious food, and accessible fuel.
Stage of the project
Why was this project started?
Currently, most refugees do not have access to safe sanitary facilities, or enough food to meet their nutritional needs. Most food that is distributed in aid packages must be cooked for long periods of time, and refugees/home communities struggle to obtain a sufficient amount of cooking fuel. Approximately 97% of refugees rely on firewood for cooking fuel, a resource that is becoming scarce as deforestation reaches a crisis point in Uganda. Additionally, firewood remains a sub-par fuel source due to the amount of woodsmoke it creates within a household. This woodsmoke contributes to respiratory illness, eye infection and high mortality rates; especially in women and children who are often near the cooking area of the home for extended periods of time.
The idea behind the Waste to Clean Air Project was established during a 2019 Dutch Design Week session revolving around the potential impact circularity could have on Ugandan refugee camps. Currently, many partners and stakeholders collaborate to transform that initial vision into a reality.
The results of the project so far
A plan has been developed for the implementation of a biodigester in the Imvepi refugee settlement in Uganda. Vacuum trucks will collect waste from pit latrines in the camps and bring it to the biodigester. Once the waste has been processed by the biodigester, biogas, water, and compost become available for use in the area. This has the potential to create impact in the following ways:
- Clean water can be used for irrigation of tree farms, which will contribute to re-greening efforts in the camp. It can also be used to supplement attempts to cultivate crops on tracts of land in the region.
- Compost can be used to aid both the re-greening (trees produced for fruit, timber wood and nature restoration purposes) and for agricultural efforts/food production.
- Biogas can be packaged and sold to refugees, providing a more accessible, safer alternative to using firewood for cooking.
- The carbon footprint of the camp will be reduced.
- The collection of waste from pit latrines prevents harmful microbes and chemicals from leaching into the soil and contaminating groundwater, thereby improving the quality of local drinking water.
- Local entrepreneurs/operators will be selected trained and guided/supported to manage the facilities and distribute the system outputs, which will contribute to the local economy.
Currently, project stakeholders are working to develop a method of efficiently distributing the biogas and teams in the field are paving the way for the implementation of the closed loop system.
What are specific, distinctive, strong elements in this project?
The closed loop concept behind the Waste to Clean Air project allows the population in Imvepi refugee settlement and host communities to work toward self-sufficiency. It also enables this project to create impact without the need for a constant supply of materials or resources from outside. The goal of this project is to eventually become self-sustaining and for operations to be managed locally, meaning that external input will become minimal. The closed loop concept is unique in that it, by nature, focuses on environmental conservation in addition to providing necessary relief.
Which specific lessons, do's and don'ts would you like to share? What would be suggestions for others when preparing or implementing the project in their own city?
It is extremely important that national and international partners in the consortium are selected based on added value to each other, and a willingness to collaborate and share. They must also be prepared to invest time upfront and take risks to make the approach a success. Once the consortium is well established and all partners are contributing, much progress can be achieved in a relatively short period of time. Partners therefore need to think beyond their traditional ways of operation. It is also important that the right mix of expertise, organization types (knowledgebase, private companies, and NGO’s) is selected for the consortium. Additionally, a proactive steering committee/management group which has the mandate to operate the implementation completely is needed. A bureaucratic environment will slow down the implementation and reduce the entrepreneurial spirit of the group, which is necessary to make the implementation of this concept to a success.
Have others adopted, or shown interest in adopting, your idea in their own area?
Yes, there is a lot of interest shown from different sides for the concept. This interest comes from various parties, like UNHCR, in Uganda, neighboring countries like Kenya, as well as other parts of Africa (West Africa). We try to inform interested parties as much as we can, and we are very open to connections with new, interested parties as well.
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