Green Bio Energy: From Waste to Cooking Fuel Through Community Empowerment

Written by Erica Shelley

“Kill two birds with one stone” is a common English idiom meaning two problems are solved with one solution. Killing two birds with one stone is considered a clever accomplishment, but why not three? Founded in 2011, Green Bio Energy is a Kampala-based social enterprise which does just that.

Following the business philosophy of “people, planet, profit,” Green Bio Energy produces and distributes organic charcoal briquettes. Replacing wood charcoal with organic briquettes helps ease environmental concerns, solves waste management issues in local communities and fosters sustainable development.

Carbonized Briquettes Vs. Wood Charcoal

According to Green Bio Energy, wood and wood-derived charcoal is the most commonly used cooking fuel in East Africa. Citing the 2009-2010 Uganda National Household Survey, Green Bio Energy asserts that 76 percent of people in Kampala use charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking. Along the streets of Uganda’s capital, large pots of matooke (plantain) and beans simmer over charcoal stoves for hours at a time.

The current situation poses several problems. According to David Gerard, business development manager at Green Bio Energy, the environmental fallout of consuming wood charcoal cannot be ignored.

“Over the last 20-30 years, a huge part of the natural forest in Uganda has disappeared. We have to do something to stop this if we want to preserve the ‘pearl of Africa’ . . . Last year in Kasese, villages had to move because the river had flooded the area. The people were left without homes; all part of the huge problem of deforestation,” Gerard explained.

Along with local concerns, deforestation in East Africa exacerbates worldwide environmental issues.

“This is an international problem in terms of climate change. The carbonization and burning of wood charcoal produces huge amounts of carbon emissions,” Gerard added.

The environmental damage also puts financial strain on ordinary Ugandans, as deforestation drives the price of wood charcoal higher and higher.

“The original idea [of Green Bio Energy] was to help communities, to help people who had problems buying their daily charcoal for cooking. From one side, the prices are increasing because deforestation is becoming a bigger problem. On the other side,  having no real waste management here in Kampala was a problem as well,” Gerard said.

Pushing the Environment to the Forefront 

Connecting these two environmental issues — the negative effects of wood charcoal and city streets cluttered with waste — led to the creation of Green Bio Energy’s central product: Briketi. Briketi is the company’s brand of organic charcoal briquettes composed of dried organic waste, charcoal dust, and any type of starch, such as cassava flour, to serve as a binder.

“Between the deforestation and the waste, we thought there must be something that can be done to stop cutting trees down and, at the same, time, use what is available. Organic waste and charcoal dust can be recycled and transformed into briquettes for cooking,” Gerard said.

Not only do the briquettes meet one environmental concern with another, they also relieve the strain on low-income households.

“People are struggling to raise enough money to buy their daily fuel, so our price has been set just below the price of wood charcoal,” Gerard said. The price of wood charcoal is set at 1000 Ugandan shillings ($0.40) for 1kg, while Briketi sells at 900 shillings ($0.37) for 1kg.

“The briquettes are cheaper than the charcoal, but it still covers all of our production costs. We are able to present to the market an affordable product that also has more benefits than regular charcoal. The briquettes we are making burn longer, which is more economical for the consumer,” Gerard explained.