I’ve (eventually) just watched “The Inconvenient Truth” for the first time and learned that:

Apple MacBooks (Pro) seem to be great.

Seriously, what’s so special about this documentary?

[The film’s director] Guggenheim, who was skeptical at first, later saw the presentation for himself, stating that he was “blown away,” and “left after an hour and a half thinking that global warming [was] the most important issue. . . . I had no idea how you’d make a film out of it, but I wanted to try,” he said.

Sorry folks, but – as much as I appreciate activism and Al Gore’s commendable approach to inform ppl “city by city” – I think the film’s main purpose is to inform ppl about an already happening climate change and that they themselves can and have to do something about it. I think he even says that during the film.

If it takes such an approach – fine, good job, Mr Gore.

But where’s the news*? Oh, wait – someone just told me: “THAT already IS big news for the USA.”

Ok, now I got it.

(*here = putting these alternatives or positive aspects in focus instead of just showing what’s so bad about climate change. Me thinks we’ll need more documentaries on how change has already been implemented by normal folks like you or me and what we can do to further improve it.
Also, I’m just surprised that the whole world (ok, ./. the USA) is already talking about these issues since the publication of “The Silent Spring” in 1962 and yet only through a much celebrated and half-baked documentary this important issue is put in front of iPhone-loving consumers in the US who apparently need a multimedia slide-show to understand the danger of a climate change and on the other hand – as a majority – hardly ever question the impacts their industrial progress has had on the environment in the past.
I also think that the environment will not only be saved by reducing our emmissions, but also by changing our products and the way we consume stuff every day. Such an important message though isn’t conveyed in the documentary, so my criticism is towards this and that Al Gore or rather the filmmaker didn’t use the opportunity to even provide much more “what YOU can do to help”-approaches/messages once everyone is already listening/watching. For instance, this “run for congress”-appeal is only shown in the end titles /credits of the documentary. Why?).

World Environment Day @ work

So today is World Environment Day and I had actually planed not to cover this special day as I am dealing with environmental issues almost every day and would actually have to blog on it every day then. Just similar to what World Water Day means to me (not much as a *special occasion* from my very own pov, that is).

However, as I went for lunch with my colleagues today, we found the following flyer(s?) on our tables and I instantly thought: hey, i’ve gotta blog this. ..

.So, here you go:

And? What’s the message?

  • Locally grown carrots produce less carbon dioxide emissions than avocados that were imported via airplanes.
  • Argentinian beef steak has a (calculated) carbon emission of 6,79kg/kg if transported via ship.
  • Energy saving / compact fluorescent lamps of 11W save an equivalent of 469kg of carbon emissions when compared to conventional bulbs @60W and a life expectancy of 15.000h.
  • Take your bike to work and contribute to a better environment
    (which would be ~ 12 km one way for me).
  • …and: calculate your own carbon footprint – which takes into account ALL data. Average carbon emission of Joe User in Germany (according to this site!) is around 10t/a, and I was just below it with ~ 8t/a. Still, lots of room for improvements. My colleague had ~ 25t/a! What’s yours?

Lesson learned: everything is interconnected, interwoven to a huge network of reasons and causes. Eating expensive and imported avocados from Kenya that cost at least 1,- EUR each and come at the size of an egg (sic!) are much more problematic than local food.
It prolly produces even more carbon emissions than the printing and distribution of such flyers to a staff / target group that is already sensitized for the world’s burning issues (health, water, sanitation, energy, transport, urbanisation, HIV, Malaria, war, greed, etc. etc.). …

No, seriously, World Environment Day is here to remind all of us that environmental protection starts with our own environmental awareness and that we can not just sit back and wait for some Messiah to come and give us a working solution. Rethink your actual behaviour and identify the potential.
(And this, although I am a strong defender of the Braungart/McDonough theory, e.g. how nice it would be to have a 2nd – green – industrial revolution where the reduction of *bad behaviour* isn’t a solution (= consuming less is still harmful), but instead identifying and using materials whose biological and technical nutrients remain in an loop. Ecosan is one of such approaches….but that’s another story :-).

IFAT 2008

I’ve attended the IFAT 2008 today – the “15th International Trade Fair for Water – Sewage – Refuse – Recycling”. There’s an IFAT in China and one in Munich, Germany. I had already attended the last IFAT in 2005 and was once again invited to Munich this time around, with my focus being set on low-budget solutions.

As you may already know, I am active in the field of sustainable sanitation and consequently tried to spot those solutions that go beyond the typical high-tech gadgets one would expect to (and will) find on such an international trade fair. The IFAT really is THE fair for all technical solutions with 2.560 exhibitors and 120.000 visitors from all over the world. Think of waste collection, recycling machines, complete sewage treatment plants with all their pumps, screening plants and technical state of the start guidelines. In short: if you’re into environmental engineering, this is your fair.

I was still a bit dissappointed though to find almost the same products I had come across in 2005 and, obviously, most of them being from the high-tech range. In other words: high-tech = $$ (€€), but not necessarily sustainable.
For example, most sewage treatment plants still produce lots of sludge that needs to be processed, i.e. dried, composted or incinerated. To my mind, such a procedure is far from following any sustainable concept. The only sustainability to that is that it provides a secured income to those companies active in the sale of treatment options. The utilisation of sewage sludge on the other hand is still discussed on local levels though, which each federal state (in Germany) having his own perception of what *should* be done with it and how the law should be adjusted to provide a legal framework aka the pressure on the industry to act accordingly. A ticking time bomb, I think. But anyways, politics are an evil game and there sure are lots of different interests at stake here.
Another example could be the availibilty of various sorting machines used in recycling different fractions of plastics, glass, metalls and so on. Nice. But will they also allow an upcycling of products? What they won’t tell you, is that most recycled materials only provide enough quality for a downcycling process. Or take the refuse incinerators. You mean we should burn all *waste* to generate thermal energy? Is that sustainable in any way? Again, there’s a huge industry behind this – and they will make sure that this technology will always be sold.

Well, instead of elaborating any further criticism, lemme switch to the interesting part and show you some mixed visuals I had captured on the IFAT 2008:

One crazy exhibitor put up this masive ice block on their stand. It lasted from Monday to Friday (5-9 May) to melt approx. 20cm on each side. An impressive way to attract visitors…

The battery recycling booth. As mentioned earlier, I am dreaming about an Africa-wide battery recyling system which would help us remove ticking time bombs from your local shamba. Let’s face it: most ppl (world-wide) just dispose of their empty batteries in the next takataka site. Would you want to have leaking batteries sitting next to your sukuma plants? Well – this scenario is still the norm, and ppl can’t be blamed for it because a) they were previously used to organic waste (maize combs, goat bones, etc.) and b) were given toxic products. Batteries are harmful to the environment! So as long as they aren’t produced of environmentally friendly materials, we will need to collect them and, if possible, try to recycle them. Problem is: Only the contained nickel will be of interest and already is a commodity with limited availibility. Hence any battery recycling system would have to be big enough to cover a critical mass and also require the support of future generations who are well sensitized to this matter.
The Stiftung Gemeinsames Rücknahmesystem Batterien (GRS) is a foundation for the recycling of batteries and financed by all manufacturers of batteries in Germany. Again, there are those batteries for sale in Europe (and Kenya, for instance) which were made in China. Those Asian manufacturers never paid their contribution to this foundation, but an up-coming law will change this in future where those who put any batteries on the market will have to pay a levy. Good.

One of those HUUUUGE self-propelled compost turning machines.

Nice little colour-coded plastic containers used for the separation of household waste fractions, made by an Italian company. Those grey coloured versions are already in use in an Italien city – adjusted to the colour of the pavement so that they aren’t that obvious (in regard to the Italien waste collection system which is different from the German, also due to climatic differences). Liked those very much and thought that these sizes would prolly sell quite well if sold through IKEA (hint, hint). Customers in Europe want this (really!) to sort their household waste.

A dinousaur made out of old printed circuit boards and other electrical materials. Obviously, this company is into the E-Waste business.

The Talking litterbin! Took this pic for fellow blogger Afromusing :-)

The product manager of this company – OTTO – the biggest and best known manufacturer of public waste collection systems (see picture below with a wall full of this well-known black 2-wheel container almost every private household in Germany owns) told me that a customer had the idea of fixing solar panels on top of this litterbin and putting a motion sensor inside so that it actually talks to you (e.g. “thank you, have a nice day”, etc. – adjustable). Well, I think that is a very smart and simple idea. Imagine this version in Kenya! Yani, it would “walk away” within a matter of 2 days, sindiyo? ;-(
Still, the idea of combining (simple, polylithic) solar cells with approved litterbin systems is smart. I like it.



Talking of this well-known “Großmülltonne”, there was this 30 year old, used 2-wheel container on display. Silke volunteered to jump in on the picture as both were “born” in 1976 (this container is as old as she is and it is STILL in good condition). Impressive.

Yeah – that’s an old VW Golf II on top of this Hammel Primary Shredder.

Silke then told me: “Hey, you just took that pic because of that *girl* in front of the machine.”
Being the nerd I am, I only then realized her sitting there and consequently told Silke: “Hmm…ati, it’s true, there’s this beautiful blonde vamp in front of the machine. What a waste. This sure is one machine that will attract any man just because it crushes cars. We like demolition. But it’s an interesting sight. Lemme blog this.”

So here you go.


I actually combed through all stalls at IFAT to find this interesting piece of “furniture” I had already seen way back in 2005. That’s a 4-wheeled metal container normally used for collecting waste – turned into a comfy sofa. Smart!

My new friend Keith from seepex.com. Keith is a Sales Manager from the US who doesn’t speak German, but he sure had an interesting product. See these two stator pumps? The one on the right side is the conventional product, the one on the left is the newly improved version coming with a 4-piece cover that may be dissassembled within 6 minutes. The old one within 20 minutes. If you’ve ever worked with such pumps, you will know the pain such a system will give you. With the new rubber housing, the exchange of parts on this pump is such an easy game.
Keith gave me a ring spanner to test it myself and hey – I had lot’s of fun dissassembling and reassembling it within the given timeframe. This inconspiciuous improvement will be LOVED by many many frustrated fundis out there….now that’s what I call a Smart Stator Pump.

Eventually, “our” little jua kali model of a Urine Diversion Dehydration Toilet (UDDT) on display at the booth of newly founded German Water Partnership (GWP). Imagine the faces of these guys from GWP when we turned up with our improvised UDDT – a …..*ahem*….low-budget? solution on display in a smaller scale, because these approaches may not be a guarantee for huge revenues, but they sure close the nutrient loop and provide an efficient use of waste streams (faeces, urine, greywater). This is a model for sustainable sanitation. And besides, such toilets are already in use all over the world (the model above was prepared by students from The Philippines, for instance) and provide sanitational facilities to those areas where ppl just can’t afford access to conventional sanitation systems. And that’s about 2,4 billion people out there who are still lacking access to a decent toilet.

Ok, enough for the day. Hope these pictures could provide you with some insight into the world of evironmental gadgets, even though I believe the real technical solutions are still to be developed and will hopefully provide much more sustainability than what’s currently for sale. As long as low-budget / DIY solutions are still considered to be somewhat “inappropriate” for “developed” countries, we’ll prolly continue running sites like Afrigadget because that’s where technology meets people’s needs. There will probably always be a market for each niche, but let me be honest: the World’s environmental issues won’t be solved by high-tech machines ONLY, but by smarter products and brothers and sisters who will actively walk their talk on environmental protection and start with cleaning their own backyard.

serikali ya Ujerumani + CO2 emissions

The German weekly magazine Der Spiegel today published an interesting list (compiled by Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.) of cars driven on behalf of German Federal Ministers – indicating the consumption [in l / 100km] and the carbon dioxide emissions (original PDF, 0,2 MB).
The list isn’t complete as some Ministries refused to provide information on this (due to “security” reasons), but nevertheless – it shows that there’s still a lot of change needed to shift the issue of saving the environment from a pure discussion level to an action level.

On the other hand though, the best solution would be a no-emission-car or one whose emissions aren’t harmful to the environment (~ in a McDonough/Braungart/C2C-way). Well, dream on…

(+ compare this with the cars driven by GoK officials….*sigh*)

Dear Nairobians,

Ever wondered what happens to your *waste*?

dandora (1)

dandora (2)

dandora (4)

dandora (6)

dandora (7)

dandora (8)

dandora (9)


dandora (11)

dandora (10)

…and that’s just Dandora.

Now, since an agreement to form a great coalition gov. has been found, maybe the Deputy of the Deputy to the Deputy Vice Mheshimiwa will eventually put this on the national agenda.

In reality, those who can afford to worry about the environment just don’t care or have not enough influence, and those who actually have to deal with the waste (even if it secures their income), prefer to dream about multimedia entertainment instead of such burning issues.

Sure, this is just one landfill out of many, out of many places, out of many countries, who just don’t do enough (or anything) on this issue. You’ll find similar landfills in the greatest democracy (sic!) aka USA and even in the UK. But it is one planet.

So why did I blog these pictures here?

  • in reference to this comment
  • to raise some awareness, similar to this approach
  • sustainable tourism: maybe the Tourism Industry should take this restart after the post-election violence to remarket their holiday destinations and come up with a solid concept on what to do with their *waste*.

Again, governments just provide the legal framework – it’s up to us on how to turn this into a win-win situation for everyone involved.

I’ll start reposting these stories just like EthanZ keeps on repeating his Tripod & activists stories and will only stop once I see some real progress. Pole :-)

All pictures courtesy of MB, February 2007.

the deposit system

We had an interested reader over @ Afrigadget.com writing in the other day, who’s based in Juba, Sudan, and was inquiring about low cost, low tech, low maintenance recycling concepts for *plastic* bottles (PET). At best, I am afraid, we could only tell him about recycling companies already active in East Africa (especially Kenya) and direct him to the CD3WD, compiled by Alex Weir.

Now, when I moved back to Germany last year, some readers asked me to blog about what this place is all about. While I think a generalization isn’t possible, some interesting details or even local *peculiarities* may become visible while reading between the lines – or just by going shopping. In fact, I’ve just come home from the weekly food-organizing-tour at our local supermarket here and was reminded of this special PET-deposit system I’d like to tell you about. Call it bridge blogging, if you will:

From what I’ve read on Wikipedia, some Scandinavian countries are said to have started this deposit system in the first place, with Germany introducing it during the early 1980s as well. What I am talking about is a “container deposit legislation”, or Einwegpfand as we call it in German.

DPG Verpackungsbeispiel
aluminium cans, glass and PET bottles – did you know that these alu cans consist of two different aluminium qualities? recycling them downcycles them to the lower quality….

Here in Germany, this was only valid for glass bottles and special high-density plastic bottles that could be cleaned and reused. Then in 2003, they changed this legalisation to apply to a much bigger range of bottles. Even simple (= thin) PET bottles and – most importantly – cans made of aluminium are now subject to a deposit. So while shopping for my favourite beer brand aka the cheapest available beer in Germany (0,29 EUR / 0,5l :-), I do pay an extra charge of 0,25 EUR which I am then refunded while returning the empty bottle/can using this machine:

A reverse vending machine, made by the Norwegian company TOMRA. Such machines are installed in most supermarkets in Germany these days… (more)

The interesting part about this system is that most Germans are in fact good at collecting and sorting *waste* and then returning the containers to any supermarket. And while some ppl still claim the lack of decent data on this, the system obviously works. It’s also lots of fun putting these empty bottles in the slot where they are then analyzed (a barcode scanner checks for the UPC code), sorted (alu & plastics) and imediately crushed and compacted.

According to McDonough/Braungart, there’s “no such thing as waste” in an ideal world, but these systems just help to preserve the environment a bit and provide raw material for further recycling – but not upcycling! Still, better than nothing.

Now let’s hope that someone at NEMA will come up with a proposal to introduce a deposit on batteries in Kenya. 2 bob on each battery sold could maybe be enough incentive to make ppl fetch their old batteries from the taka taka pile on their shamba and return them. There may not be a 100% closing-the-loop concept on batteries or other nasty products so far, but it would at least help preserving the environment. All it takes is the right political framerwork, any maybe also some initial funding for the clean-up phase for older batteries that were sold without a deposit. A low charge as a deposit may be better than the long-term environmental damage these batteries create.

I believe that if you can’t change people and their behaviour, give them the right products and/or a financial incentive to contribute to this process. Same applies to public toilets btw but that’s another story.

Why? Because it took this legalisation for people to return their plastic bottles and aluminium bottles which in the past were only collected, burnt and deposited on a landfill. Many customers of course were upset at this extra work, but then – due to their assiduous German nature :-) – just accepted it and turned it into a success.

Water is a gift

Sorry for posting yet another video (pole to those who aren’t on broadband), but we just got this forwarded from a colleague at work and I think it’s a nice video to share – especially since I really dig the Arabic…

[youtube btWcXNSvOHw]
“Awareness video on water scarcity with nice animations and effects produced for Yemen and the National Water Resources Authority NWRA..”

Do we need a similar version on water conservation in Kenya? Hmm. Maybe for the protection of surface water and groundwater tables in urban areas…