Cameroon Students Turn Household Waste into Eco-Friendly Coal

Students at Douala University have come up with an ingenious way to combat the Cameroonian city’s mounting waste management problem. They’re behind a pioneering scheme that produces a new eco-friendly form of coal based on everyday household waste – from old banana peels to leftover food.

Douala, in western Cameroon, is a city with a big waste management problem. Douala sprawls over several hills and its mountainous geography makes it difficult to get waste bins and maintenance workers in and out of some neighborhoods. It isn’t rare to come across rotting piles of banana peels, vegetables or other rubbish thrown into the street waiting to be collected.

But to combat the rising tide of food waste flooding Douala’s city streets – and protect the environment – a group of university students have come up with a unique type of coal that’s 100% eco-friendly.

“We carried out some studies on the region around Douala, and what we found was alarming: 79% of the population used wood or charcoal as a source of domestic energy. The problem is that both energy sources contribute to the region’s ongoing deforestation. Mangrove wood is such a sought-after commodity that the trees are slowly being wiped out. They’re either cut down or burnt in the forest to make charcoal.  In addition to that, Douala also has these giant compost heaps that pollute the city. We started wondering if we could kill two birds with one stone by coming up with a new source of energy made from this waste. We rolled up our sleeves, grabbed our wheelbarrows, and visited as many markets and private individuals as we could to collect everything from banana peels to used coffee grains in order to create a new kind of environmentally-friendly coal.

The process takes a full day. At first, the waste must be dried in the sun in order to remove as much water as possible. Then we have to put the leftover material in ovens in order to reduce it to ashes, and finally, process the ash until all becomes a seamless whole.

At the start, the people who we collected the waste from didn’t understand what we were going to be able to do with it. But when we came back with the coal and told them, “that’s your trash”, they couldn’t believe their own eyes!”

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