Trash to Cooking Fuel: Recycled Paper Can Replace Firewood in Haiti, Save Forests

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It’s Blog Action Day, 2011 (BAD11) and this year’s theme is Food. Through this post, Ecopreneurist wants to bring the focus on energy and food. Cooking fuel is taken for granted in developed societies, but this is a critical need in poverty and disaster-prone countries, a need that influences the delicate balance between the society, economy and the environment. 

Read what our sister sites are sharing for BAD11 here!

Growing and cooking food presents different problems in different parts of the world. In poverty and disaster stricken Africa, energy to meet cooking needs is a complex problem that has led to complicated environmental, economic and social situations.

Levels of Deforestation in Underdeveloped Countries

According to the International Lifeline Fund (ILF), this is a very serious issue. The ILF is a non-profit organization that focuses on simplicity; their programs utilize basic cost-effective, innovative technology and smart interventions that promote self-sufficiency and provide sustainable solutions to underprivileged communities.

During the past two decades, Sudan, Uganda and much of the rest of East Africa have lost one-third of their forest cover – about half of which is attributable to the use of wood for cooking. On an even larger scale, Africa loses approximately 9.9 million acres of forest every year – twice the global rate of deforestation. In reality, this means that for every 28 trees that are cut down, only one tree is planted.

Impacts of Deforestation

The environmental impacts of this practice are disastrous and evident when 80% of sub-Saharan Africa’ s population relies on solid biomass fuels for cooking – primarily wood and charcoal. This dependency has cost the country its forests, sapped its fertility, and set the stage for an increasing series of natural disasters. But there are other social and health impacts too. The ILF adds,

  • Depressed living standards: a typical female villager will spend approximately one-third of her time collecting wood and cooking.
  • Sexual violence: in insecure regions like Darfur, collection of firewood is the single greatest risk factor for rape.
  • Respiratory disease: indoor air pollution resulting from open fire cooking is responsible for 300,000 to 500,000 premature deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Energy Issues in Haiti

In disaster stricken Haiti, International Lifeline Fund’s program, is working to wean the country off this lethal addiction. Throughout Haiti, 95% of the population relies on wood and/or charcoal for cooking. This cooking method has ravaged the environment, and poses a huge economic cost to families as well. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the cost of charcoal accounts for approximately 40% of the income of the typical Haitian family.

How ‘Waste Management’ Can Help Deforestation in Haiti

Haiti: Smart Stove, Image Credit, The Adventure Project

ILF’s initiative in Haiti seeks to address these urgent problems by providing fuel saving stoves that is designed to run on either wood or briquettes that is recycled paper compressed into briquettes. This is part of  a two-part solution to the problems of fuel demand and excessive waste. When using briquettes made from waste, stoves save 100% of wood or charcoal that would have been previously used. When briquettes are unavailable and wood is the only option, the stoves save 60-80% of wood as compared to cooking on a traditional fire or charcoal stove.

There is a tremendous amount of waste paper that is available for recycling or re-use, and this creates a wonderful opportunity. Watch this ‘Trash to Cash’ video from ILF.

The program is successful with locals reporting that they liked the stoves because the stoves are cooler to sit near, safer for children and safer for cooking with near tents. One recipient said,

“With my stove I am able to purchase less charcoal, which means I help protect the environment and save money. For me this project is more than just giving people a stove; there is solidarity between ILF and the people; also this program is helping us to re-build our country so that Haiti can be more beautiful than before the earthquake.”

Amen to that.


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