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How briquettes from human waste, sawdust are taking place of charcoal

Kevin Ochieng
Kevin Ochieng, a production supervisor at NAWASCOAL, with the briquettes at the plant. PHOTO | PHYLLIS MUSASIA | NMG 

Beside Ms Wanjiku’s jiko, a green bucket displays round-shaped compressed briquettes made from sawdust and human waste, which she uses a fuel. She confirms that the briquettes last long and save on cost.

“It has been quite a while since I embarked on using this briquettes. When you light your jiko, it takes up to three hours before you can think of adding some more charcoal.

“I prefer using the briquettes over normal charcoal as they have really helped me in my small business to save on cost and also keep time in preparing breakfast and lunch for my customers, who are mostly mechanics,” says Ms Wanjiku who lives in Barut Estate in Nakuru West says.

She is one of the many Nakuru residents who have embraced the briquettes manufactured from human waste and sawdust collected around the town in the Great Rift Valley.

‘Makaa-dot-com’ as it is famously known by Nakuru residents is manufactured by Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company (NAWASSCO).

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Mr John Irungu, the General manager at a subsidiary company known as NAWASSCOAL, says the process starts when the waste is collected around the region of Nakuru.

The waste is then taken to a processing plant where it is dried for two or three weeks in drying beds placed inside a greenhouse. The hot temperatures in the greenhouse take out about 70 per cent of the moisture from the sludge, which then prepares it for carbonisation.

“The carbonisation stage is where the dried waste is heated in a kiln at temperatures of about 700 to 800 degrees Celsius. All harmful gases are then burnt off eliminating the bad smell,” explains Kevin Ochieng, the production Supervisor at NAWASSCOAL.

At the same stage, the waste is then grounded up finely using a batch mixture before being mixed with sawdust that has also been carbonised at 300 degrees Celsius. Molasses are also added in equal portion to bind the materials forming into little balls.

The combined materials of milled sawdust and sludge are then fed manually into a rotating drum machine while molasses which is used as binding agent is added gradually until the mixture form balls of about 3cm in diameter.

The Nakuru County Sanitation Programme (NCSP) was initiated in 2017 and co-funded by the European Union (EU). Later it was implemented by the NAWASSCO in partnership with Nakuru County, Umande Trust, Vitens Evides International (VEI) and Netherlands Development Organisation.

Rosemary Kilo, a resident at Bondeni Estate in Nakuru town who also uses the briquettes, said they burn longer and are suitable when cooking time-consuming foods like githeri (a mixture of maize and beans) and meat.

“They also have no smoke. At first, my family was worried that the briquettes would produce a bad smell in the house but when I tried them out, no one has ever complained,” she said.

According to Mr Irungu the programme aimed to demonstrate and implement a commercially viable sanitation value chain benefiting residents of urban low income area in the County who are not connected to the sewer lines.

“There are more than 500 families living in slums in Nakuru which we saw were at high risk of contracting sanitation-related diseases as a result of incomplete and open sewer lines,” he noted. Most of the homesteads in the low-end estates were surrounded by inefficient and leaking sewers discharging untreated effluent into the environment.

“The situation could always worsen during rainy seasons and we had to quickly think of a better way to manage it,” he added.

Most of slums areas — mainly located on the lower sides of the town like Kaptembwa, Pondamali, Kwa Rhonda, Kivumbini, among others — were the most targeted as they were likely to be hit by floods and possible disease outbreaks such as cholera and typhoid.

For centuries, human excreta have been a perennial problem. While some countries have made significant leaps in addressing sanitation challenges, many more especially in developing countries like Kenya have widely struggled to sustainably reduce the menace and risks associated with inadequate access to sanitation services.

At first, Ochieng said it was hard to convince the local community to use the briquettes due to the taboo associated with human excrement. But now that the efficiency of the process has sparked interest not just among the Nakuru residents, but further afield in other counties and in the neighbouring country of Rwanda.

In the beginning, Ochieng said the licensing bodies and the Nakuru County Health Department also had reservations about the project, raising queries about how the waste was going to be collected, transported and treated in accordance to the law.

“It was not easy at all. The project partners were forced to lobby the Nakuru County Assembly for a comprehensive Public Health Bill that addresses how to handle human waste, removing the legislative restrictions,” he said.

He however confirmed that before the briquettes find their way into the kitchen, they have to undergo several processes to ensure that they are free from disease-causing pathogens.

“The process has been approved by National Environment and Management Authority (NEMA) and the products certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS),” added Ochieng.

The temporary ban on logging has however been a boon for NAWASSCO as its briquettes business is now doing better than before as households, hotels and institutions seek alternative sources of fuel. The business that kicked off about two years ago is now producing seven to eight tonnes of the fuel monthly.

“We sell the briquettes in different quantities, the smallest is a two kilogramme bag going for Sh60. We sell five kilos at Sh150, 25 kilos at Sh750 and 50 kilos at Sh1500,” stated Ochieng adding that the company looks forward to increasing the number of tonnes produced per month to between 12 and 15 due to increasing demand.

The project has so far received close to three million pounds in European Union grants for innovative ideas that have so far improved sanitation services.

The project has also played a major role in controlling the amount of waste being channeled into Lake Nakuru, one of the Kenya’s most iconic lakes that is home to thousands and sometimes millions of flamingos.

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