Brilliant Innovation Produces Energy from Trash in Kenya


Public sanitation and hygiene have long been compromised by the lack of public works programs to remove trash and sewage from Kenya’s urban low income areas. Resident’s have been left with the task of their community’s garbage removal and human waste facilities which has been far too daunting without the proper equipment or resources.  However, a community based organization, Ushirika Wa Safi or “‘an association to maintain cleanliness’ in Swahili,” in the Kenyan slum of Kibera has begun to make large strides in successfully accomplishing this task without government assistance.  Innovation and the will to improve their standards of living have allowed this community to develop their own sustainable waste removal system which doubles as a “community cooker that turns waste into an energy source.” Some say Ushirika Wa Safi’s program is radically improving the lives of the community’s residents.


The organization began its work simply enough, as a group that would send out teams once a week to collect and burn garbage in the community. Soon organizers thought to use the burning garbage as an energy source to warm a boiler that could provide hot water to residents for a small fee. Eventually an incinerator was developed that could not only heat a hot water boiler but also provide energy for a ‘community cooker’ where residents pay to cook their meals. Now the project is gaining significant momentum and appreciation from locals.


The organization has devised a program whereby large reusable sacks are distributed to residents, filled with trash, collected by wheelbarrow, and then deposited for sorting. Some of the trash is sorted for recycling, some is sold as scrap, and some is used as fuel to generate heat for the community cooker and boiler. The incinerator is kept burning through a small quantity of used diesel fuel that would have otherwise been thrown away. The ashes are then collected by residents who use pit latrines to ward off the smell. Through the small user fee that the project charges for their services, Ushirika Wa Safi has been able to employ ‘caretakers’ who ensure that the incinerator is under control and garbage collectors to retrieve the trash filled sacks and bring them to the project site.


With few resources but a strong will to improve the standards of living for its residents, Ushirika Wa Safi has made a significant environmental, humanitarian and economic difference in its community. This is a wonderful example of how creative problem solving can begin to forge the path towards sustainable development in Africa.


Reference: Gathigah, Miriam. “Community Turns Garbage Into Energy Source.” Inter Press Service., 16 Mar. 2011. <>.



A video on ‘Harnessing Waste Produces Gas for Cooking in Kenya’ from Voice of America:

An article from BuaNews on the impact of recycling on energy use and production in South Africa:

A video from Capital FM in Kenya on a program to recycle plastic bags:



1. Would you mind cooking your food with heat that is generated by trash? What might bother you about that? Is it worth using methods that might initially make you uncomfortable in the name of sustainability?

2. What do you think you would do with your trash if there wasn’t a collection system? Could your local community come up with a plan to collect and dispose of it on your own?

3. What trash collection and removal solutions can you think of? Could any of your ideas work without large amounts of resources?

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