Kigali, Rwanda, is site of one of the latest crossroads of people, planet and profit, with a recycling project as a catalyst for profit, employment and solidarity for HIV+ women.
The project is run by ACEN (Association for the Conservation of the Environment), a local cooperative with funding from UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). ACEN members are now charging 12,000 families in Kigali between US$1 and US$37 to collect their trash, which they bring to a central facility for the waste to be sorted, dried and pressed into fuel “briquettes.” These fuel-blocks are cleaner-burning, cheaper and more fuel-efficient than wood or coal, thereby reducing pollution and deforestation.
The project has multiple other benefits in addition to greening the environment: The ACEN cooperative provides vocational training, daily meals and monthly stipends to 133 employees from the rural population, two-thirds of whom are women, and half of whom are living with HIV/AIDS.
In fact, the ACEN is hoping to increase production to meet burgeoning demand for this inexpensive and reliable product, which has brought the cost of fuel material down from approximately $25/month to less than $8/month. Coming soon, ACEN also has plans to develop a micro-loan program and market their briquette-efficient stove to everyday households, enabling them to partake in these cost-saving devices.
Thousands of miles away geographically but not philosophically, a Vietnamese non-governmental organization (NGO) called Thien Chi (meaning “good will”), has galvanized the local population to clean up the countryside for profit.
This project, operating in 52 communes within Binh Tuan and Hau Giang provinces (four hours north of Ho Chi Minh City, the southern capital of Vietnam), is also generating income for poor villages by recycling waste. The model, which was one of the winners of the World Bank Development Marketplace competition in 2005, is relatively simple: school children collect garbage, selling it to a nearby district center where the organic and inorganic matter are sorted. Organic matter is dried and sold as compost to local farmers, and the plastic waste is incinerated, then sold to make lower-value plastic goods like bags and ropes. The schools are able to put the extra income towards student scholarships and building repairs. In 2007, the project earned US$14,000.
In 2007, over 37,000 students collected over 150 tons of plastic waste to be recycled. Pollution in this area is reduced, as the usual practice of disposing waste in Vietnam, as with many developing countries, is to burn the garbage as is in the fields or dump it in the rivers.
Bernard Kervyn, a Belgian expatriate who has advised the recycling project since inception in 2001, says, “The people love the program and are proud to say their area is much cleaner. In fact it can be seen easily when one compares with other regions outside the program area.” Some photos can be viewed here.
Thien Chi would like to expand the project to meet demand, currently double what they can supply, but Thien Chi needs more land and investment capital. They are also seeking to discover how to recycle low-value wastes, suspecting that Africa may have an answer…
As both these cases show, cleaning up the neighborhood pays.