Kabarak University trash innovation makes a difference

Written By Jane Njeri Thuo

The Gioto dumpsite in Nakuru is always a beehive of activity as various individuals scavenge in search of something they can sell. Every so often, lorries ferrying waste from residential homes can also be seen bringing their loot to the site.

All these activities go on amidst buzzing flies and vultures in search of food with a foul smell emanating from the piles of garbage. Among the dirty-looking individuals, a group of young people stand out.

Dressed in black T-shirts with Enactus (Entrepreneur in Action) printed on them, the youth are busy collecting and selecting polythene bags, which they then stuff into sacks they are lugging around.

We learn from Kabarak University’s Business School lecturer, Wilson Balongo, that the group is collecting plastics, which are then used to make diesel and light gases as part of a project meant to empower and improve the livelihoods of poor communities.

Mr Balongo says because plastic is made from petroleum, the university has come up with an innovation that through a reverse process, converts the polythene bags into various petroleum products.

This they do through the help of a locally-assembled machine dubbed the Robama Plant that is divided into one combustion chamber with two condensation tanks for tapping gases.

The upper combustion chamber, covered with aluminum foil, is fed with plastic materials and then tightly closed to keep oxygen out. A fire is then lit in the lower chamber. The plastics then burn for about three hours.

“The combustion chamber is tightly closed to enable it retain heat of 400 degrees, which then melts the plastics and they form gases,” Balongo says.

Smoke escapes through a chimney while the gases are transmitted through a pipe into the first condenser.

The first condenser takes in the petroleum dense gases, which it retains as diesel while the lighter gases move to the second condenser.

“The project is environmentally friendly because it reduces plastic pollution and taps all the gases into the two chambers so that none seeps into the air,” he says.

The scholar says this project should be adopted by the relevant Government authorities as it will help to keep plastic pollution at a minimum since only 33 per cent of all manufactured plastics in the country are used.

Balongo’s team engages 46 families living in the area, equipping them with skills that will enable them process diesel and earn a living. A kilogramme of plastic can produce about 0.96 litres of diesel, which can be sold both wholesale and retail.

“Although the project has not been approved by the authorities, the product has successfully been tested in small machines like generators and lawnmowers. It can also help locals earn a living,” he says.

The idea behind the innovation was born when Balongo toured China last year and learnt of the country’s laws to produce clean energy and reduce pollution.

When he came back home, the lecturer thought of reducing plastic pollution, which is literally choking Nakuru County.

The 45.5 tonnes of annual plastic waste can be recycled to produce 44,000 litres of diesel and the amounts earned from this can change the lives of residents, while improving their environment.

“Although China is more industrialised than Kenya, I was attracted by how it manages its waste so that pollution is minimal especially compared to our country where littering appears to be the norm,” he says.

Balongo chose to work with Enactus, which is a group of students who use outreach projects to improve livelihoods of communities.

The group has a presence in 40 countries with members drawn from 1,700 universities. In Kenya, Kabarak University is one of 25 member universities.

The team is now looking to form partnerships with both the county and national governments in order to take the recycling process to a higher level.

Such a move would greatly improve Nakuru County’s environment and sanitation since it is one of the places struggling with waste management with large amounts of solid waste lying around.

According to Economic Commission for Africa Environmental Expert Calvin Atuwamba, recycling of waste products improves the environment because it reduces carbon emissions.

He says recycling reduces the need to manufacture new products and also saves on landfill space since plastic bottles take an average of 500 years to decompose.

Reference : www.standardmedia.co.ke