SEATTLE — Most of us know that waste recycling helps the environment by reducing pollution, but few are aware of its economic benefits. New waste management initiatives in Africa and Southeast Asia also represent innovative ways of reducing poverty.
The leader of one such initiative, Jean-Bosco Nzeyimana, took part in a panel discussion at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University. Among those present were US President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Nzeyimana is the head of Habona Limited, which he founded in 2014. Based in Nyamagabe district, Rwanda, the company produces clean energy by turning environmental waste into biogas fuel.
In an interview with Rwanda’s the New Times, Nzeyimana made it clear that the venture is both a climate change mitigation measure and a way of addressing poverty.
Growing up in rural Rwanda, Nzeyimana recalled that kids, himself included, would often go to the forest looking for firewood, which would then be used to make charcoal. Not only does this create waste and pollution, but it also means that children “are involved in laborious activities to help their parents just to have a meal, instead of going to school.”
Nzeyimana witnessed firsthand the problems stemming from the lack of reliable, clean energy, and he sought to remedy them. Today, his company employs 25 full-time workers, and the environmentally friendly fuels it produces are helping improve health and sanitation in people’s homes.
The Rwandan entrepreneur is not the only person that recognizes the potential of waste recycling for poverty alleviation. Francistown, Botswana’s second largest city, recently announced a new project in which scrap plastic would be used to make diesel.
Keeletsang Lesaba, Francistown’s coordinator with Botswana’s Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control, believes that this plan would reduce both the country’s reliance on imports of diesel fuel and the city’s need for government assistance. In addition to cutting down on environmental pollution, plastic recycling can turn waste into new opportunities for economic growth.
In the basin of the Mekong River, an area which encompasses parts of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is looking into recycling not industrial waste but human waste.
According to Pay Drechsel, the IWMI’s resource recovery lead, urine “is rich in nutrients and can produce fish feed.” One method involves using duckweeds, aquatic plants which abound along the Mekong, to clean urine. They then become a source of food for fish that live in the river.
In the face of climate change, which threatens the Mekong region with longer dry spells, including an ongoing drought that has ravaged Cambodia and Vietnam since 2015, wastewater is proving to be a valuable resource for both agriculture and aquaculture.
Recent efforts at waste recycling have been promising, and one can certainly look forward to the introduction of more innovative ways of reusing leftover materials.
– Philip Katz