Fredrick Mugira
March 29, 2012

I could hear various inept voices singing coming from all corners of the garbage pile. The singers were short of drum beats but sang with buoyancy.

They fluttered majestically; some flew splendidly as if they were military planes guarding a territory tightly. Just from a piece of rotting banana paste to the neighboring banana peels, green fluid flowing from the heap of garbage and several other hard- to-identify rotting stuffs. It was hard to keep trail of just one of these houseflies. They all looked the same.

On the jagged surface just adjacent to a footpath lay this huge heap of garbage with all sorts of agricultural wastes and a few plastic mineral water bottles; some rare metals and old looking plastic bags. A few garbage was folded in plastic bags; I did not know exactly what it was.

Slowly and carefully, so as not to anger the singers, I reached for the flesh banana peels. The peels had just been dumped there by a brown girl; probably a housemaid. I met her on the way.

The smell of rotting garbage filled the area as children and women dumped more garbage there unbothered. Some talked in low tones as they looked at me diffidently. Imaginably they were wondering what I was doing there.

I had gone to this garbage heap in Kamukuzi cell, Kamukuzi division, Mbarara municipality not to listen to the songs of houseflies nor to enjoy the bad smell from the garbage. No! Just to witness how ‘gold’ was being wasted. The gold I am talking about is the banana peels.

Banana peels which constitute a big percent of agricultural wastes in Uganda

Dumping banana peels after peeling bananas to prepare lunch or dinner is a hustle which no girl child and woman in Ankole and Buganda regions of Uganda ever forgets. But what is easily forgotten is what is dumped. The banana peels. Just because they are wastes. These wastes are a menace everywhere in the country; most especially in urban centers.

In a municipality like Mbarara, which has slightly over 83700 people, agricultural wastes mostly banana peels constitute over 80 percent of the garbage generated by the town dwellers, according to Wilson Tumwiine, the town’s mayor who wants something to be done to reduce these banana peels.

However, the mayor will not worry any more. A German lawyer has started turning these banana peels into another form of ‘gold’.

Wet Charcoal briquettes after production at Jan's company

Jan Rudolf Hass collects the peels from hotels, restaurants, schools and some households, dries them, mixes them with charcoal dusts and saw dust before crashing them to form charcoal briquettes.

Through his Uganda Green Fire Limited Company based at the former Gatsby grounds in Mbarara town, Jan Is helping to produce alternative fuel for restaurants, education institutions, refugee camps and some households in the region.

“We collect and use one ton of banana peels per day,” notes Jan further stressing that his company has been in this business since July last year.

This innovation is not only helping in agricultural waste management in the town but also conserving trees in the region which would be cut to produce wood charcoal. As Jan notes, one kilogram of charcoal briquettes is equivalent to 3 tins of wood charcoal. It takes about one medium tree to produce 3 tins of wood charcoal.

This innovation comes amidst warnings that if the current rate of deforestation in Uganda is not checked, the country will start importing firewood in five years because trees are being depleted.

Jan who says his charcoal briquettes have a “400 percent advantage over the wood charcoal,” sells a kilogram of these smoke free charcoal briquettes at 600 Ugandan shillings compared to the wood charcoal which are sold at about 1500 shillings a kilogram.

Jan's smoke-free charcoal briquettes in a stove burning

He however laments high costs of electric power which he uses in production of these briquettes. But Jan says this is a short-term problem because he intends to use the same agricultural wastes to produce his own power through gasification. Gasification is a process through which low value-residuals are converted into higher value products including power and steam among others.

Jan’s innovation that turns garbage into ‘gold’ could be a reason why some trees are still alive and the singing voices of houseflies as they enjoy garbage not common because garbage is no longer a waste to human beings.

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