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Workshop report on urban waste and energy in developing countries, February 24, 1998

S. Dunnett, ITDG

This workshop was organized by Intermediate Technology' in the UK as part of a project 'Energy' Provision to the Urban Poor', funded by the Department for International Development (DFID). Further information can be obtained from Simon Dunnet or Alison Doig, ITDG, Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton Hall, Bourton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9QZ, UK


Energy supply and demand in urban areas of developing countries is not understood as thoroughly as energy systems in rural areas, despite the fact that the rural economy in areas close to towns and especially in periurban areas, is often dependent on the sale of wood and charcoal. In the case of large cities, the economy up to 100 km away or more may be affected. The poorest in urban areas continue using traditional fuels because their access to modern energy, such as kerosene, LPG and electricity is limited. Price and supply fluctuations of these modern fuels also mean that households will switch back to using biomass-derived fuels when it is more convenient or cheaper to do so.

The generation of waste in towns and cities could provide a source of fuel to which the urban poor have access. At present, large numbers are employed in both the so-called 'formal' and 'informal' sectors, recycling useful materials that have been discarded by others. The purpose of the workshop was to investigate the possibility of using some of this material as a fuel, and/or those elements that would not otherwise be recycled.

Atelier sur les dets urbains et l'rgie dans les pays en voie de dloppement.

Le th prminant fut que la production d'rgie artir de dets urbains doit e inse dans le cadre de la probltique de la lutte contre la pauvretLes mesures prises doivent e profitables aux acteurs dvorisde cette fili. L'impact ntif sur la sant mis en exergue. II a soulignue les dets vtaux non collectpourraient e mis en valeur gr aux technologies utilisant ces dets comme sources d'rgie.


Informal Sector Recycling, Dr Mansoor Ali, WEDC, University of Loughborough, UK.

Dr Ali described the contribution that the informal sector makes in the recycling of waste, specifically in Karachi. It is estimated that 50000 people earn their livelihood from this activity, two fifths of them engaged in waste picking. Some key issues were raised during the presentation:

· Why do people separate waste?

· What is being separated?

· What improvements could be made?

· What role should institutions like municipal corporations take?

· What is the role for NGOs?

· How could micro-enterprises be developed around 'Waste-to-energy'?

· Is there a need to look at the whole concept under the social, institutional and financial framework or do we need the most appropriate technology?

· Who will do the operation and maintenance?

· The issue of sustainability.

Urban municipal waste containing high proportion of vegetable matter.

Experience of Urban Waste and Energy in Sri Lanka, Sanjeewani Munasinghe, IT Sri Lanka

IT Sri Lanka's recent experience in utilizing waste from urban and periurban areas for the production of energy was outlined in the next presentation. It is estimated that there is the potential to generate 101 MW using urban waste in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka office has been involved in the energy sector, and particularly biogas, for twenty years. There are three main biogas projects:

The Kirullapone pilot project uses waste provided by the municipal council to fuel five 60 cubic meter digesters.

The Maharangama pilot project uses waste that has been sorted at the household level to remove most inorganic material (or items that may have some value).

The Anuradhapura pilot project supplies gas to a school hostel for cooking, using partially sorted waste.

Energy for Urban Poor in Developing Countries-Potential Solutions from Waste Materials, Professor B. Sudhakara Ready, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, India.

The nature of the energy flows within Bangalore, the fastest growing metropolis in India, with reference to the potential for the use of waste, was outlined by Professor Reddy. In this city, the poor use biomass fuels such as fuelwood, charcoal and agriculture wastes (with efficiencies as low as 10%) and the rich use Liquefied Petroleum gas (LPG) and electricity (with efficiencies greater than 60%). The percentage income a household spends on its energy needs reveals that low-income households who use biomass spend as much as 17% while those with high income only spend 0.4%.

Studies on providing energy in Bangalore shows that the municipal waste could not only produce energy but also nitrogen-rich manure. It is estimated that there is 690 tons per day of garbage available in Bangalore of which 50% is manure. Using the fermentable matter there is a potential for 512 MWh of thermal energy or 114 MWh of electrical energy and 340 tons of fertiliser.

The benefits of the adoption of waste energy technologies would be conservation of resources and protection of the global environment. To government, capital investment would be reduced with a corresponding reduction in foreign exchange outflows. The customer gains by being able to satisfy basic needs, reduce costs, and have an improved quality of service.

Building Materials and Energy: Possibilities and Alternatives for Developing Countries, Dr Fernando Martirena Hernandez, Centro de Investigacie Estructuras y Materiales (CIDEM), Universidad Central de las Villas, Cuba.

The use of ash from waste materials combustion for the production of lime-pozzolana binders was the initial reason that Dr Martirena was interested in the energy aspects of building material production. The main sources of waste for this purpose are agro-industrial waste and solid municipal waste. Biomass is processed and densified with simple hardware into a solid fuel block. Heat from its combustion can be used for drying, for the production of steam and for quicklime burning. Flue gases can be filtered to produce gypsum, which, along with the ashes, can be used to manufacture the lime-pozzolana binders.

The main product is a lime-pozzolana binder produced at a very small scale. The technology has been under development for the last 8 years, and it is just at the stage of transferring from pilot scale applications into commercial applications (The EU has recently approved a project to spread lime-pozzolana workshops around Central America). There are a few of these workshops in commercial operation.

Key Issues for Sorting Waste for Energy.

Following the presentations, the participants were asked to discuss the question 'what are the key issues for waste management in the informal sector of developing countries, with emphasis on sorting wastes for energy recovery? Key areas were identified as:

· research into how linkages between the formal/informal, private/public sectors could be established,

· collaboration should be encouraged between workshop participants,

· lesson-learning and south/south exchanges should be encouraged,

· urban waste-to-energy technologies need investigation,

· suggestions to benefit the poor should be made to policy makers

· knowledge transfer within the informal sector regarding technologies needs further understanding.


One overriding theme of the workshop was that the production of energy from urban waste should form part of a wider poverty alleviation process, rather than the development of technology for its own sake. If the shortage of, or limited access to, sources of energy for the urban poor are taken as the starting point, then the development or adaptation of structures and technologies to utilize waste could occur in a sustainable way.

Concern was expressed about the fragile nature of this informal livelihood from waste picking, in particular that any intervention should benefit these groups, and not remove their access to the waste. There is a great need to understand and to support the informal waste-recycling sector.

Environmental health was a key issue raised throughout the workshop. Hazards from uncollected, often putrefied wastes were highlighted. The health risks to the people involved with handling and sorting of waste was also raised.

The workshop identified both a need and opportunities for further activities in this field. The first steps will be to:

· increase understanding of the informal waste sorting systems,

· address the environmental health risks of informal waste management,

· undertake research into appropriate waste-to-energy technologies for household, community and small-scale industrial uses, keeping energy and livelihood needs of the urban poor as a focus.