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Bouquets and Briquettes - Don’t let that waste be wasted

  • Bouquets and Briquettes - Don’t let that waste be wasted

    by Martina Bozzola

    Friday, 14 Aug. 2015

    Martina Bozzola explores new business models for managing green waste generated by the flower sector in Uganda  

    Last month, I walked through vast fields of flowers in Uganda. Beautiful as they are, I wasn’t interested in their blooming buds, but rather their thorns, stems and roots.

    I was visiting four Ugandan flower farms with colleagues from the Product Carbon Footprint project. The project, supported by ITC Trade & Environment in partnership with the Uganda Carbon Bureau (UCB) measured the emissions of flower farms and provided advice on reducing or offsetting them. 

    During last year’s visits, managers often mentioned green waste as one of the main challenges for flower production. A typical flower farm in Uganda produces 4-6 tons of green waste per day, from discarded flowers, leaves and shortened stems. The industry is eager to learn more about options to manage this waste sustainably.

    Cut and cuttings flower farms in Uganda CC: ITC

    Our team, together with Dr. Mary Njenga of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and UCB, and with the support of Green Heat Uganda Ltd ., explored a promising waste management option: by converting green waste to fuel, flower farms could dispose of unwanted material while providing affordable and sustainable energy. But in its raw form, green waste is not ready to be burned for fuel – it must first be treated and processed. One option is converting the waste into fuel briquettes.

    Green waste in Ugandan flower farms

    Briquettes are made by combining biomass waste such as fresh and dry green wastes, charcoal fine particles (made from carbonizing biomass waste) with a binder (such as soil, compost, paper or sugar cane molasses) and water. The mixed materials are compressed into a uniform solid unit using a manual or mechanised press. Briquettes can then be used in the same way as lump charcoal or firewood.

    This use can also be valuable for farm employees and communities. Briquettes are a more affordable fuel than charcoal or firewood. The cost of fuel in East Africa constitutes a significant burden on household incomes – reaching up to 40% of the expenses of an employed woman. Briquettes can also decrease pressure on local forests. Without an affordable source of sustainable fuel, residents of rural communities must cut down nearby forests for charcoal and firewood. Furthermore, cleaner-burning briquettes reduce indoor air pollution, leading to improved health for the households that adopt them. The effect is especially large for women and children, who spend much of their time preparing food around the stove.

    Health benefits are even greater when the use of fuel briquettes is combined with the adoption of improved cookstoves. Last year hundreds of these improved cookstoves were purchased by flower farms for their employees, improving the lives of farm employees and their households. The purchase of cookstoves was economically viable because it gave the flower farms the ability to generate carbon credits.

    Airfreight emissions are an unavoidable part of the fresh flower business in East Africa. Reduced carbon emissions from cleaner-burning cookstoves, along with reduced methane emissions from less decomposing green waste, offer an opportunity to offset the sector’s airfreight emissions. Reducing and offsetting emissions is not just good for the environment, it is also vital for sales. The perception by consumers in developed countries that importing flowers from afar is environmentally damaging can harm sales. By demonstrating the steps they are taking to lessen their environmental impacts, East African flower producers can improve consumer perceptions and boost demand.

    There are a number of practical business models to implement briquette production at flower farms. One farm had already bought a manual briquette machine. During our discussion with the farm’s managers, we explored the idea of empowering an existing women’s committee to lead briquette production. On a voluntary basis, the committee would organize to produce briquettes outside of their normal working hours. These briquettes could then be used for their own consumption or sold to the farm and surrounding communities, all of which currently rely on expensive and polluting firewood.

    Another business model is to outsource the briquette production to a third party, operating on or near the farm. Briquettes are lighter than green waste, because water is dried and pressed out during production. Briquette production near the farm’s supply of waste would allow lower transportation costs, and allow more efficient sales to the farm, its employees and the surrounding community.

    Banana, coffee and tea plantations in East Africa are already producing well performing briquettes. Flower waste briquettes need to be tested to determine their emissions and efficiency as fuel. These tests are easy and inexpensive once sample briquettes are available. Cultural resistance to replacing charcoal or firewood with briquettes can also be a barrier to adoption, so reliable information and test results are crucial.

    Drum kiln, automated briquette machine and briquettes produced in Uganda with carbonized banana leaves mixed with sugarcane molasses and water  

    This blog post only addresses one of several existing alternatives for farms to manage their green waste. Other options include biogas and compost production for neighbouring farms. Several farms in Uganda have already invited nearby farmers to collect their green waste to make compost, though uptake has been slow. 

    I’m excited about the new green waste solutions being developed together by NGOs, farm managers and employee groups. These leaders are showing that there are a wide array of smart business models that lead to wins for the farm, the community, and the environment. 

     

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