More than 100 families are making a living on an innovation that just sprung three years ago, thanks to a group of women garbage collectors who discovered a goldmine in what many people continue to treat as mere waste products.
The garbage collectors-turned-innovators are now producing biomass energy from garbage which they collect from several Kigali homes.
Beatrice Uwimpuhwe, the board chairperson of Cooperative pour la Conservation de l’ Environment (COOCEN), a garbage recycling cooperative, looks back at the long journey, which started way back in 2002 when she and her colleagues started off as cleaners in Kimisagara, a suburb of Kigali City.
Speaking to The New Times, yesterday, at her Nyakabanda-based office, Uwimpuhwe said that the cooperative was founded by 45 members, who were either widows or orphans, and were all garbage collectors.
In 2007, tempted by the massive piles of garbage that had accumulated and without a place to discard them to, the partners decided to make good use of the wastes.
“We started as a cleaning association but we later faced a challenge of where to dump the wastes; we decided to find a way of recycling them and to transform them into resourceful product,” Uwimpuhwe said.
“Later we came up with this idea of making briquettes which has given incredible results; so many people who have visited us have been surprised and impressed by this innovation,” she said.
The cooperative started as an association in 2002, but it was not until 2007 that each member contributed Rwf57, 000, totaling to Rwf 2,565,000, as they took on a new business philosophy.
Their business has now grown to about Rwf 5,760,000, according to Uwimpundu. They cooperative has also acquired some equipment and is now preparing to compete on the energy market, she said.
Yet, they still collect garbage from three sectors of Rwezamenyo, Kimisagara, and Nyakabanda, as they process it into a rod-like biomass briquette.
The cooperative has already started to compete for big tenders so as to supply their products to such places as prisons. The cooperative now employs 110 members who collect garbage from 3,000 families which are first dried up, later milled and then turned into briquettes.
This is the cheapest source of energy and we are confident that once the people embrace it, it will go a long way in eradicating the practice of cutting trees, the group’s leaders said.
The biomass briquette is three times cheaper than charcoal. The Minister of Infrastructure, Vincent Karega, praised the cooperative’s innovation, adding that Rwandans were increasingly using biomass energy.
He said that about 495 families and 20 institutions are now using biomass energy, and that felling trees has declined as a result.
He said that the Government established a credit scheme through Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) as a way of continuing to support innovations that seek to conserve the environment.