An appropriate technology project that allows communities to turn their trash into an alternative fuel source.
Written by April Muniz (CED 2010-2012, Diourbel)
The paper briquette project was brought to Senegal by my former site-mate, Stephanie Shumsky (EE -2009-2011), who researched appropriate technology solutions for how to turn recyclable paper into burnable briquettes. She found a paper briquette press on-line, ordered it, and had it replicated here by a local metal smith. By definition, appropriate technologies are: “small scale, labor intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.” The local user should have access to all of the materials needed and be able to replicate any working parts locally. This press fit the bill! However, because it requires the use of ample supplies of recyclable paper which, in hindsight, Stephanie realized were not readily available in her remote village; the project did not take hold. During my service (CED 2010-2012) I lived about 25K from Stephanie’s village in the regional capital of Diourbel where there are many schools, businesses, and government offices that use and discard paper, not to mention exponentially more households than its neighboring villages, so I took this project on hoping it would be better accepted in this urban setting.
In order to truly appreciate this project and its multifaceted benefits, you have to understand the trash situation in Senegal. Outside of Dakar and one coastal town along the Petit-Côte where Peace Corps Volunteers have been actively addressing this problem for years, there are only a few established trash collections system throughout the country. In some neighborhoods in Diourbel, you can hire a man with a donkey-cart to collect your household trash and he’ll take it to a community trash pile in the middle of town—away from your compound and out of your sight, but still in the middle of a populated area next to someone else’s compound. Most people can’t afford this service or can’t be bothered to use it so, instead, create trash piles just outside their compounds which are shared with their neighbors. If they throwing away anything putrid, like fish guts or animal parts, they usually dig a shallow hole and cover it with sand, but the feral cats are on to them and quickly unbury them for their own enjoyment. When the pile gets large enough, someone will set it on fire and then we all breath burning plastic fumes throughout the night. Needless to say, this is not ideal. These trash piles are more than just an eye sore, they’re a health hazard, too; they're covered in flies and accessible to small children. Removing paper products from these piles barely scratches the surface, but it does help to get people thinking about trash sorting and trash reduction.
The paper briquette press is small
(10”L x 3.5”W x 8.5”H) and consists of three parts, the base, the insert, and
the press plate. The base and the insert
fit together to hold the pulp and the press plate is placed on top. Two arms attached at the top of the base are
interlaced, crossing each other to rest on top of the bars on the press plate. Pressure is applied to these arms, which
presses the water from the paper pulp and creates a solid briquette. The press comes apart to release the newly
formed briquette for drying. The wet
briquettes take about 15 days in the direct sun to fully dry.
The briquettes are used to replace wood, charcoal, or gas which are currently used to cook daily meals. Charcoal and gas are an expensive option, so the majority of people use wood, which entails either buying it or sending women and girls out to gather it. The first option eats into the household expenses and the second option often means that girls are removed from school to take on this chore. Using wood also adds to the problem of deforestation, which is an odd term to use because where I live there are no forests, per se, just random trees that provide bits of shade and tremble in fear of approaching machetes. Although briquette fires require a small amount of wood to get going, an entire lunch can be prepared using just 6-8 paper briquettes, resulting in a great reduction in per meals costs.
A project like this is only useful if you have the means of passing the technology along to those who need it. I work with Baol Environment, an eco-village that works with community members to increase awareness about environmental issues affecting the Sahel. We’ve used this project as a teaching tool with kids who are involved a 3-year environmental program. We emphasize the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling trash, as well as the benefits of using alternative fuel sources. This tactile project has motivated the kids to participate. They collect paper in their schools and homes and then work together to rip it, make pulp, and form the briquettes. This year, the kids will begin an outreach program to conduct demonstrations to teach the other kids in their schools.
The paper briquette project was an effective teaching tool for environmental education. Five elementary schools in Diourbel now have the knowledge, skills, and materials to continue making paper briquettes and they plan to spread this knowledge on to others though exhibitions and workshops. In addition, a women's group in the village of Keur Saer in the Department of Bambey has begun using the paper briquette technology to augment their clay pot business. They had formerly been firing the clay pots they make and sell with firewood collected in the bush. Unfortunately, firewood is hard to find in this Sahel region and other fuel sources were prohibitively expensive. A group of students at the University of Bambey (SIFE - Student in Free Enterprise) introduced these women to the paper briquette technology and helped to train them. They later documented this in a presentation for a national business student contest and walked away with the third place prize.
As was noted by Stephanie Shumsky, in order for the paper briquette technology to be adopted there needs a good source of recyclable paper in the area. Other than that, there are not many challenges with this technology. The press is fairly inexpensive to make (ours were made for 5,000 CFA), the materials are easy to obtain and often cost-free (paper, agricultural bi-products, and water), and the manual labor required is minimal.
The lessons I learned from this project were all good. Kids like to work together and this project allowed them plenty of time to do that. People are appreciative to have found an alternative fuel source because they know that resources are scarce in the Sahel.
I held several workshops during my service to introduce this technology to other volunteers and many of them purchased presses from me. Adzovi Dogba (CED 2011-2013) in Kaolack has since held workshops in her area and has successfully had the press made locally. The students from the University of Bambey plan to continue working with the women's group in Keur Saer and my counterpart in Diourbel will continue to expand this technology throughout the Diourbel area.