The Community Cooker in Kibera





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Published on Sep 29, 2010

What if piles of rubbish could be converted into resources that informal settlements need, while at the same time conserving and protecting the environment? What if organic matter, plastic bags and even 'flying toilets' could be turned into energy to make hot water for washing, sterilize water for drinking and heat for cooking?

The Community Cooker is a remarkable recycling project which turns rubbish into energy and has the potential to transform informal settlements into resource rich communities. It evolved from a determination to address the massive accumulation of rubbish in streets throughout Africa, while at the same time mitigating deforestation.

What is the community cooker?
The community cooker uses rubbish as a fuel for cooking, baking and boiling water. It has two complementary functions:
1. To burn rubbish thereby addressing the associated health, sanitation and esthetic issues of rubbish, especially in informal settlements.
2. To provide communities with an alternative source of fuel to charcoal for cooking meals and boiling water, thereby mitigating deforestation throughout Africa.

It was designed for informal settlements, including slums, displaced persons camps and refugee camps, where a high number of low income people live on small plots of land. The community cooker is a simple machine, built on the premise that it needs to be able to be fixed and maintained using locally available materials by the members of the community.

It represents a low tech, low cost and socially inclusive vision of change, engaging communities to participate in exchange for energy to cook food and heat water on a regular basis. Once set up, it has no operating expenses and runs for an indefinite period of time for free. While it is currently designed for cooking, the potential to convert energy into alternate uses exists including activities such as brick making, pottery making, and hot water for institutions.

How it works:
1. Rubbish collection: A community, or a specific group within a community, collects rubbish within informal settlements using baskets, bags and wheelbarrows.
2. Sorting Rubbish: Rubbish is deposited and sorted on the lowest of the three stepped steel welded mesh racks. Operators receive training in solid waste management and ensure that non-combustible materials and materials which create harmful fumes are intercepted and removed, such as glass and rubber. Biodegradable scraps that fall through become compost manure. The remaining rubbish such as plastic bags, packaging, food scraps and even flying toilets, is placed on the second tiered rack for drying. Dry materials are shoveled down the slide to the firebox.
3. Incineration: Two simple taps are the only moving controls on the cooker: one tap controls a drip flow of recycled sump oil (discarded oil from vehicles) and one tap controls a drip flow of water. A drop of each, in equal amounts, falls onto a super-heated steel plate of the firebox, where water vaporizes into hydrogen and oxygen which causes a combustive reaction with the flames, thereby increasing the temperature from 250 degrees Celsius to more than 800 degrees Celsius, the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for incinerators in developing countries. As the firebox gets hotter, the network of steel pipes are heated that pass around the cooker. As the rubbish burns, heat is distributed among 8 cooking plates and 2 ovens on the top of the Cooker.
4. Using rubbish as fuel: The cooker can be used by either individuals or community groups to cook food for their own use or as an income generating activity. The cooker has 8 cooking plates, as well as an oven which is large enough to bake up to 10 loaves of bread or roast an entire goat. It can be used 24 / 7 as an income generating activity, either by individuals or community groups.

5. Cleaner waste: A tall and narrow chimney rises out of the firebox, between the hotplates. A nearly odourless white vapour produced from the incinerator emerges from the chimney far away from the spotless cooking area.

Quick facts:
- It costs approximately US$13,000 to build.
- It can consume some 500 kg of rubbish every day.

For more information on the Community Cooker:
Community Cooker
Planning Systems Services Ltd.
Planning House, Lower Kabete Rd.
P.O. Box 188, Sarit Centre 00606, Nairobi, Kenya
0724 255 088 or 0733 555 001


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