Today, Peter and I were taken to the outskirts of Blantyre to a recycled paper briquette manufacturing site. A local entrepreneur, Precious Chaponda, has started a business buying recycled paper and turning it into briquettes to burn as fuel. Precious was one of the first recipients for the REEF Commercialization Grant. This type of fuel utilises a recycled byproduct as well as reducing the need to burn charcoal, the production of which exacerbates Malawi’s deforestation problem.
The production process involves shredding recycled paper before soaking it. The soaked paper is mixed with sawdust to improve the end product. The resulting pulp is placed into moulds before being compressed by turning a large screw handle. This compresses each briquette and removes excess water. The briquettes are then released from the moulds and left to dry for around 3 days until completely dry. The whole process is done by hand with no powered machinery.
The challenge is bringing the product to a wider market and making it competitive with charcoal as a suitable cooking fuel. When used in the Chitezo cookstove it burns well; it is very hot and can cook nsima quickly. However, another type of stove could make the cooking process more efficient and would be better suited for the paper briquettes. When compared to charcoal, although the price is lower (only 30 Kwacha equivalent to roughly £0.05 each), most people are used to charcoal. This requires consumer education on the benefits which also include less smoke produced.
The briquettes are sold on site but also in a local market. Precious negotiated with a businessman at a local market in order to reach a wider population. Approximately 30 – 40 briquettes are sold each day through the market stall nearby. The product is cheaper and better for the environment than using charcoal but still needs further marketing and market penetration to start making a real difference. The price of charcoal can also fluctuate which has a knock on effect to demand.
Initial sales were encouraging :
- Month 1 (partial month): 500 briquettes
- Month 2: 2000 briquettes
- Month 3: 1500 briquettes
Precious was very enthusiastic with his plans moving forward and prospect for increased sales during the upcoming rainy season when price of charcoal typically goes up.