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Words from West Africa: Future of Waste

It’s a hot sunny day in Accra, Ghana. Most of the time, we kept the AC going in our rented van. But, we were driving by the coast and had the windows down to get a nice breeze. It was a beautiful sandy beach with tall palm trees and perfect waves hitting the shore. We drove by several fishermen reeling in the nets to see their latest catch, a common sight here, and a contrast to the resorts we’re normally used to on such prime real estate. All of the sudden, the foulest of smells fills the car. The smell was coming from the outside, but the fishermen and others around us seem indifferent. “We’re almost there,” says our driver. Right across the beach we see our destination, Waste Enterprisers.

Palm tree on the beach

Fishermen pulling their latest catch

Timothy Wade, the Chief Operating Officer of Waste Enterprisers was waiting to greet us. He was, like most of our group, from Seattle and even owned a condo in Capitol Hill. Two years prior, he moved to Accra after he partnered with Ashley Murray to start this unique company geared towards creating renewable energy products.

Tim told us we were in an area ironically named “Lavender Hill.” This is the site of Accra’s current waste disposal solution: dump it in the ocean. Yes, that’s right! Hundreds of trucks a day collect waste from the various tanks across the city and come to Lavender Hill to dispose of it. This directly feeds into the ocean without any processing. That’s several hundred tons of waste, daily, dumped into the same waters that fishermen are hauling fish out of less than a kilometer (right) down the road. What is not fed into the ocean via dump trucks is inevitably deposited through the sewage system, which also runs off into the ocean through a channel near Lavender Hill. Tim mentioned how dire the situation here was, and that the damage could even be seen on satellite maps, where murky brown water is visible around the coast of Accra. That pristine beachfront was not at all as it seemed.

 Dump truck unloading right into the water at Lavender Hill

The lagoon that all the sewage gets dumped into which after the bridge is the ocean. Also you can see fishing boats at the farther end used to catch fish from this area

Waste Enterprisers is trying to build a company that helps the city improve its sanitation practices. Tim walked us through their pilot waste processing facility that is geared towards turning human waste into a source of energy. Essentially, they are able to take waste and turn it into solid fuel, with limited water byproducts that can be filtered and safely dumped away. The fuel can safely replace coal and other eco-fuels, such as wood pellets in industrial generators, and is comparable in energy per ton. The details of the process and their plant are on their website and definitely is an interesting read. Currently, their pilot program can produce approximately 2 tons of fuel from a handful of trucks, and they are still working out some of the kinks. Once in full force, they will be able to take about 100 truckloads of waste and generate upwards of 65 tons of fuel daily!

Tim, explaining the process of extracting the solid waste energy.

This is where the dump trucks should ideally be dumping. The reservoir that feeds into Waste Enterprisers process.

The first part of the process, de-watering, where the solid waste is separated from the liquid.

These are the drying beds. Temperature control is important to get the most energy out of the fuel.

In addition to the innovative process they use, what’s unique is their business model. Waste treatment facilities are expensive to operate and the governments don’t have the budget to sustain the operations. Right beside the facility that we were at was an older plant to process waste that was abandoned a few years after it was built since the money ran out. What does Waste Enterprisers solution cost to run then? Not very much. They make their money selling the fuel, and what they ask the local government for is some land for the processing facility and redirecting trucks from the Lavender Hill dumping site to their facility so that they can get the primary raw material needed for the process: human waste. Waste Enterprisers takes it from there, making deals with local and international businesses to replace their coal burning operations with the new fuel.

While still a for-profit organization, Waste Enterprisers delivers on social innovation on so many levels, from cleaning up the city through better waste processing, to helping create fuel alternatives to coal. They are even looking at partnering with organizations like Unilever, looking at bringing sanitation to households that can’t afford the regular channels for waste disposals. This partnership enables them to get the materials they need, while at the same time supporting even more of the community.

We’d like to thank Tim and Waste Enterprisers for making the time to educate the Jolkona team about their mission.

Keepin’ it regular for social good!

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2 Comments

  1. Online butcher / April 19, 2013

    It’s very sad when you see all these dirty and polluted beaches.

  2. Tim Wade / April 22, 2013

    Thanks, Punit! It was fun having you visit. Just wanted to give out twitter handle a shout out – @WEnterprisers

    If anyone reading this article is interested in our work, please connect on twitter to follow the sanitation revolution.

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