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In Africa's largest slum, a cooker that turns trash into fuel

From Isha Sesay, CNN
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Slum village puts trash to good use
  • In Kibera, a low-tech project uses trash as a resource to produce heat for cooking
  • Local residents use Community Cooker to prepare meals and heat water
  • People deliver all sorts of garbage in exchange for cooking time

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, mountains of trash are piling up along the dusty streets and footpaths of Africa's largest slum.

With local authorities not providing garbage collection in the area, tons of plastic bags, bottles and food waste form a distressing and harmful backdrop for the health of the thousands of people living in Kibera.

But in the middle of it all, in the community of Laina Saba, a low-cost project, dubbed the Community Cooker, is helping to clean up the streets.

The Community Cooker is a device that uses trash as a resource to produce heat for a large stovetop that local residents use for cooking and heating water.

The community has to be given more information on the dangers and the consequences of unnecessary dumping of wastes everywhere.
--Bernard Asanya, Community Cooker project manager
  • Nairobi
  • Kenya
  • Waste and Recycling

Every day, community members deliver all sorts of trash to the project in exchange for tokens for cooking time. The garbage is then sorted according to material and stored in racks next to the cooker.

Once dry, it's pushed through a chimney while the cook operator pushes it into the firebox, which burns hot enough to destroy toxins.

"Sparks from the disintegration process catches the rubbish that's been fed into the firebox in there and at the end of the day it produces a lot of fire," explains Bernard Asanya, who is project manager of the Community Cooker.

"And also for those who cannot afford the rubbish for an exchange of cooking, they can as well as come and pay the very affordable amount of money for them to use it to cook," he adds.

Designed as a sustainable solution for reducing waste, the communal cooker was one of eight short-listed candidates for the Energy, Waste and Recycling award at the 2008 World Architecture Festival.

Laina Saba residents are testing out the cooker, using it to make breakfast, bake bread, prepare meals and heat water for bathing before or after work.

Asanya says the project provides the community's poor members an affordable way to prepare food.

The majority of residents who live in the Kibera slum live on less than a dollar a day, Asanya says. "So many people use charcoal and paraffin, but charcoal and paraffin is very expensive compared to the using of the community cooker."

So far, he says he's seen less trash on the streets of Laina Saba as a result of the Community Cooker.

He adds, however, that there is room for improvement and calls for more action that will highlight the sanitation risks stemming from the careless discarding of trash.

"The community has to be given more information on the dangers and the consequences of unnecessary dumping of wastes everywhere," he says.

Still, the project has given some of the slum's residents hope that goes beyond cleaner streets.

"Some of our youth like me, you find that after cooking you can go and sell it, and that's a job opportunity to me," says Ebby Ang'awa, who is one of the Community Cooker's users.

"It does really help the community" and is something that she thinks "will bring a change," she says.