Toffo, a small village in Benin, is fuelling its community by turning waste into biogas

The problems posed by waste are multiple and increase the vulnerability of the population, creating real risks caused by their effects on water. Much of humanity has a problem trying to get rid of its waste, however, in the Southern Benin village of Houégbo, waste is seen as gold, thanks to a new centre where waste is turned into fertiliser and cash.

The centre, a 1.3-hectare facility in Toffo, which has been operational since 2017, was built by Swiss foundation for sustainable development ReBin. Every week, six tonnes of organic waste is processed under oxygen-free conditions, turned into 200 cubic metres of a flammable mixture of carbon dioxide and methane, packed and then used to fuel the kitchens of about 100 households. This indirectly reduces the amount of wood used in creating charcoal in a rural region where electricity remains scarce.

“The process is rather simple and works like a human body. You feed the digester with organic waste, animal excrement (such as chicken droppings). For one tonne of waste, you need 1000 liters of water (it’s a 50/50 ratio). In order not to use clean water, we have developed a fish farming activity so we could use the enriched water coming from the ponds. It also provides fresh fish to local people. Biogas is then naturally produced and stocked in big bags before we can distribute it,” ReBin’s founder, Mark Giannelli, told MINING.com.

Besides this, the people of Houégbo also benefit financially from the plant. They receive 250 CFA francs (57 US cents) for every 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds) of waste either in cash or credit—to buy biogas. So far, at least 100 households have signed up to deposit waste at the facility.

“Our trash has become gold. We no longer throw it into the bush. We use it to make money,” Alphonse Ago, who lives next to the centre in Houégbo village said to AFP.

The centre plans to start producing 400 tonnes of organic fertiliser per year. It is also one of the ways Benin is dealing with mounting garbage aside from banning plastic bags and creating awareness on how to avoid indiscriminate garbage disposal.

Employees preparing organic waste on the ground of the ReBin Benin Foundation in Toffo, Benin. Photo: Yanick Folly, AFP

According to ReBin founder,  Mark Giannelli, the presence of waste such as pineapple skin inspired him to set up the centre in the village. Benin is Africa’s fourth-biggest exporter of pineapples. And in Houégbo, which has one of the busiest markets in the region, local sources estimate that more than a tonne of waste is generated every day from that fruit alone.

Houégbo is one of the many African towns that are turning waste into something beneficial. In Ivory Coast, a biomass power generation plant fueled by cocoa production waste is being built with the aim of increasing cocoa revenue as farmers would not only be selling the beans but the pods as well. Ghana and Algeria are contributing to ecological efforts to reduce the plastic menace by building roads and houses for refugees using plastic bottles. Cameroonian non-profit Madiba & Nature is also turning plastic bottles into canoes, and Africa’s first waste-to-energy plant was recently launched in Ethiopia with the aim of processing 1,400 tons of solid waste.

ReBin’s centre launched in June, and since then it has processed more than 20 tonnes of waste, saving about 164 tonnes of wood from being used to make charcoal. “The idea was to replace wood and charcoal that are usually transported on the back of women and children through long distances. Results: deforestation and millions of death each year because of the house fires,” Gianelli said.

For ReBin’s founder, such devastating outcomes can be avoided by fueling daily life with alternative sources of energy. “We have set an example of ‘nothing is lost, everything is transformed.’ There is no waste on this Planet, only misplaced resources!” he said.

Effective waste management systems contribute to the reduction of extreme poverty, clean water and sanitation, reduced inequalities, responsible consumption and production, and sustainable cities and communities, all which are part of the sustainable development goals. The centre has treated more than 20 tonnes of waste since it began operations late last year.