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From trash to cash: Youths in Mzuzu invest in waste for energy, income

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NEW VENTURE IN TOWN—The briquettes making process

About five years after countries committed to reduce waste, boost recycling, promote renewable energy among others by 2030, charcoal production is still widespread and cities and towns are still reeling with dirt — a case of Malawi.

But somewhere in Chibavi a township in Mzuzu City, some 10 youths under Chibavi Youth Action Group have harnessed this as an opportunity. They are converting dirt to money. They have ventured into briquettes and plastic bricks manufacturing.

This is a group that started in 2019 with 46 members; 22 males and 24 females, but currently 10 of the members are the ones that are deep in the new business.

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Chairperson of the group, Mathews Kumwenda, tells us that on daily basis they meet and split into two group; one for briquettes making and the other for plastic bricks production.

The making of briquettes

Kumwenda says there are three types of briquettes that the group is involved in. The first comprises mixture of 30 percent crushed cartoons, 40 percent saw dust and 30 percent maize bran.

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The second is a combination of charcoal dust taking up to 70 percent with maize bran taking 30 percent of the mixture.

The other type is composed of waste from the farms such as maize stalks combined with crushed cartoons and saw dust.

All these three are mixed with water and placed in a manual briquette making machine which produces eight blocks per cycle. After drying them up they become sustainable and affordable alternative source of energy to charcoal.

“They are very durable with one briquette you can even cook beans,” says Kumwenda smiling, while holding a sample of the briquette in his hand.

On the other hand, there is a plastic brick; a new product in the country that has the ability to sustainably reduce and manage the plastic waste while also providing a viable business opportunity for the private sector.

These are bricks made from non-recyclable plastic waste such thin plastics, broken plastic kitchen ware, plastic bottles among others.

One of the youths, Peterson Nsonda, says unlike other biodegradable wastes, plastic wastes do not degrade for a long time and therefore pose numerous critical environmental challenges, affecting all life forms, natural ecosystems and economy.

Nsonda says turning them into bricks does not only provide a cleaner environment but is also a source of income for them.

“We mix different volumes of plastics with sand concrete through a heating process in one big pot. After the mix is done, we mould them just like any other bricks are made. The bricks are placed under wet surfaces to cool down,” he says.

Nsonda says the bricks are mixed with sand so that they do not melt when they are exposed heat.

Opportunities

According to Kumwenda business is slowly picking up particularly in the plastic bricks production. He says so far four people have approached them for supplies.

“The first one needs 200 pavements which we sell at K500 each. The second one needs 700 bricks, the other person needs 7,000 bricks and the last one needs 10,000 bricks. We are hopeful that once we have produced all these bricks we will be smiling on our way to the bank,” he says.

The bricks are sold at a range of K400 to K1000 each depending on the size.

On the other hand, Lauryn Ngwira, another member of the group is hopeful that the briquettes making will also attract a considerable business considering the durability of the product.

“Apparently, we only have one woman whom we supply with the briquettes weekly. We give 20 at K250 each. It’s a small amount but with time we know we shall penetrate the market,” she says.

Really, the demand is untapped as nearly 98 percent of households in the country cook using firewood and charcoal, according to the findings in the 2018 National Population and Housing Census.

As part of empowering them block leader for the area Maria Ziba says she gave them her place as a makeshift factory for the briquettes and the plastic bricks.

Shortcomings

The group can produce up to 200 briquettes a day and at least an average of 50 plastic bricks in a day.

“We are sure that these youth can produce more than what they are producing now. They need proper machines; two or three because they only have one now. Apart from that they also need alternative source of energy like gas because melting the plastics in large volumes needs immense heating,” says Adams Ngulube, Chibavi Development Committee chairperson.

The group has been in the venture since December last year after learning through a project called Strengthened Urban Governance in Mzuzu City by Find Your Feet Malawi, Church and Society Program and Voice of Livingstonia which received funding from Tilitonse Foundation.

FYF project officer Robert Ndovie says it is interesting that the youth will no longer be idle and that they will be able to generate income for their wellbeing.

“Apart from the fact that our project has born fruits where it will be sustained, we are also anticipating cleanliness in the city. There are a lot of plastic bottles, plastic papers in the city, all these will be collected for reuse. We bought six briquettes making machines which we distributed to six groups. It is our hope that this initiative will grow,” he says.

It would not come as a surprise seeing plastic bricks and briquettes making being the next big thing in the country.

Already companies like Raiply Malawi Limited has installed machines valued at $1 million (K821 million) for making briquettes from both forest and mill waste.

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