The environment in which one is nurtured is often credited with shaping that person’s distinctive characteristics including the persona. Similarly, its known to shape opinion and even lead to creativity as people strive to understand their circumstances. For Daniel Wanjuki, the Director, Ecosave Africa Limited, living in a neighborhood that was overwhelmed with the pungent stench from a slaughter house provided motivation for the search for a solution that eventually became the foundation of his current enterprise.
Back in 2004 in Kitengela town, Kajiado County, Wanjuki faced problems with the pungent stench that emanated from a slaughterhouse that was close to his compound. Though some of the neighbours felt that such stench is normal with slaughterhouses, he was convinced that a solution could be found.
Dispite moving further from the neighbourhood to escape the stench in 2005, he was still keen to get a solution for the stench and when he heard that the slaughterhouse had been ordered closed by public health officers for the stench nuisance and related complaints, he headed to the site and met the management offering to provide them with a solution.
With a bio-chemistry engineering training background where he had been involved in the manufacture and marketing of soaps, cosmetics and confectionery with diverse companies including Unilever East Africa, Wanjuki knew a product could be produced to handle such stench.
He avers that such often derives from the ammonia and hydrogen peroxide in waste water and related litter. With his offer for help accepted at the slaughterhouse, he proceeded on to harvesting some live bacteria from the slaughterhouse water waste which he was confident would biodegrade the waste and deal with the stench. He isolated the bacteria and then started trials at the slaughterhouse. The stench gradually stopped and his earlier assertion was confirmed. Fundamentally, Ecosave Africa’s flagship product, Ecotreat was formally functional.
Armed with the solution, he proceeded to the relevant authorities including the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) seeking its registration. Little could he guess that his registration journey had just began. “After the trials I couldn’t convince any of the authorities that my solution was efficacious and useful. Eventually, I approached the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (KEPHIS) and after several committee meetings, KEPHIS acknowledged and appreciated the fact that the product was biological and locally produced with no foreign micro-organisms,” Wanjuki explains.
After this KEPHIS wrote to NEMA recommending that the product be registered and as a rejoinder, NEMA requested for an environment impact assessment (EIA) which essentially was Wanjuki’s responsibility as the proponent. He, therefore, was required to hire an auditor for the EIA. “I approached several registered environment assessors but none of them could do it,” recalls Wanjuki who is today a lead expert in EIA in East Africa registered by the NEMA.
Not one who gives in easily, Wanjuki let his bid for registration rest for a while as he enrolled for an Environmental Management master course at Egerton University in 2007. “I enrolled for the course to understand environment management better and to also qualify as an environment impact assessor,” he affirms.
When he finished the course in 2008, he had widened his networks and managed to get to undertake the EIA for Ecotreat. The solution got very handy in 2009 when the former Environment Minister, the late John Michuki started a campaign to clean Nairobi. Slaughterhouses were especially in crises given that many of them had contributed to pollution through stench and disposal of raw waste into Nairobi River and streams. He was requested by NEMA to partner with the slaughterhouses and his solution was used all over the country even though it was yet to be registered.
“We were happy to work with five slaughterhouses. We mainly engaged with Municipal authorities under whom the slaughterhouses were licensed,” Wanjuki asserts. He explains that Ecosave Africa still works with county governments.
A micro-organism based product that helps in managing sewage and other organic waste, Ecotreat is today a good solution for various other industries. Essentially, it breaks down the waste including fats and toilet paper producing a by-product that is predominantly water. Additionally, Ecotreat reduces smell, flies and mosquitoes in the waste water treatment plant.
“We partner with Kapa Oil Refineries and Canon Chemicals among others in the manufacturing sector. Additionally, we partner with universities, schools, hotels and residential estates to reduce smell and to also treat waste water before it can be reused or disposed into the environment,” Wanjuki expounds.
The Great Wall Estate in Mlolongo, Mavoko Sub-county, with over 1700 residential units utilizes Ecotreat and Ecosave Africa’s waste water treatment system in an amazing combination. The company has expanded its services to all counties in the country and sells Ecotreat through distributors and agents to county governments and private institutions and individuals. It also works with agents in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania.
Ecosave Africa’s waste water management system comprises stabilization, aeration, sedimentation and clarification chambers in that order. Conventional systems have the first three chambers with the clarification chamber being Ecosave Africa’s own innovation. “We have introduced the clarification chamber in which we pass the waste water through sand, gravel and activated carbon which filters and arrests suspended materials. Activated carbon is a bacteria sieve given that the micro-organisms adhere to the carbon cellulose,” Wanjuki affirms.
The company promotes the zero exhausting technology and is committed to stopping the ‘get it out of my sight’ attitude that many citizens have with regards to litter and garbage and especially waste water. “We use technology to deal with waste water which essentially comprises 30 per cent solids. Channels for effluent including sewer lines are costly to construct and maintain and still all the waste ends up as pollution in our rivers,” regrets Wanjuki.
Apart from producing and providing its Ecotreat Waste Digester, Ecosave Africa also specializes in on-site waste management and conducts EIAs and Environment Audits (EAs). Wanjuki advises citizens using the services of garbage collectors to insist on getting certificates of delivered waste from dump sites to stop illegal dumping. “Having the certificate of delivery is a legal and mandatory requirement which if enforced can deal with the challenge of illegal dumping along roads and in open, unused spaces in different parts of the country,” observes Wanjuki.
Wanjuki says the current building system is partly to blame for poor waste management in the country as it tends not to provide for central and efficient solid and liquid waste disposal systems. Citizens’ apathy to waste management and the ignorance that leaves them unaware of both the dangers of irresponsibly managed waste and the great value of properly managed waste is also a bane. Consequently, Ecosave has proposed to partner with the Kenya Water Training Institute (KEWI) and the Institute of Building & Highway Technology to help in addressing some of those challenges.
Ecosave’s daily production capacity for Ecotreat is 500 litres but this could be increased if demand is high. The firm has travelled a long journey since its establishment. Some of its teething problems included the difficulty in getting registered at its infancy, the fact that no consultant could write a technical report on the company and poor acceptance by citizens. “I started the firm alone and today have seven permanent employees and five on contract. Further, we offer internship and training opportunities for students from environmental science and water engineering universities and colleges and our sites are appointed as study areas for waste management,” Wanjuki explains.
Ecosave Africa still faces problems sourcing employees with the right skills and has to keep training new and old employees. “Many of the initial customers wanted to know where our solution had been produced and tested and when we told them it was Kenyan and tested locally, many became cynical and apathetic,” says Wanjuki, adding that it is possible to change Kenyans attitude on local innovations and solutions and waste management seeing that they have now accepted Ecotreat.
The company faces competition from exhauster companies that remove waste from septic tanks and ordinary pit latrines to dispose off the waste at the Ruai sewerage site in Nairobi. Most of the competition is due to the rampant ignorance among citizens on waste water disposal leading to less buying of their product and use of other damaging products. The use of chlorine-based chemicals and salt products, for instance, exterminates the useful bacteria in waste leading to stagnation in its processing and terrible stench.
Despite not handling sold waste directly, except that in waste water, the company is involved in public-private-partnerships (PPPs) for waste management. Wanjuki is the interim chair in NEMA-led PPPs Committee on Environment & corporate social responsibility which joins together different organizations with the aim of reducing solids that end up at dumping sites. “We are endeavoring to create awareness on the need for recycling, re-use and refusal of waste. Refusal, for instance, includes banning the manufacture of items such as plastic paper bags,” says Wanjuki who is also a member of the National Steering Committee on the World Environment Day where he provides input on waste handling.
Ecosave Africa, through its subsidiary Ecosave Consultancy, helps companies and institutions and even individuals with tips on waste recycling and biogas generation and containerization. The Kitengela Slaughterhouse today collects and uses biogas in its premises courtesy of this support. Ecosave Africa is considering venturing into solid waste treatment and management in the future.
“Our solution is fully efficacious for a year and we advice our customers to ‘seed’ their systems every other year. The bacteria in Ecotreat can be weakened or killed by the disinfectants used in toilets, other cleaning activities and also by the common antibiotic treatment that people frequently use and in which the antibiotics are disposed from the body through urine,” Wanjuki advices.
Ecosave Africa has also introduced Odourex Urinal/Toilet balls that diminish toilet stench to replace chemical (naphthalene) based mothballs that damage the environment by producing green house gases. The balls are affordable, environment-friendly, and 100 per cent recyclable. The balls absorb urine content and detoxify it before releasing it and thus eliminate the need for disinfectants and deodorants.
The benefits of Ecotreat include the fact that it doesn’t produce methane gas. It produces ethanol which is broken down into water and carbon dioxide which plants use for photosynthesis. “Our solution is a facultative bacterium that doesn’t exclusively require oxygen to survive and work. It’s neither aerobic nor anaerobic and won’t fail in a system that is deprived of oxygen,” affirms Wanjuki.
He adds the bacterium does not need agitation to work and is not volumetric. “Ours is a seed that multiplies despite the waste volume. It is very efficient and resilient and floats on top of the waste releasing enzymes that breakdown the waste. It withstands challenges even without aeration,” assures Wanjuki.
The company appreciates the fact that its original product has remained effective and unchanged over time leading to more opportunities from animal farms, institutions and manufacturers of different products. ”We have been on an innovations journey and have introduced different solutions and services to ward off competition. Some people have tried to import products similar to ours but have failed to reach our level while others have tried to introduce counterfeits but failed,” reflects Wanjuki.
He affirms that Ecosave Africa has registered six patents for solutions including Ecotreat and its waste water treatment plant with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). To ensure efficiency and success, the firm continuously trains its staff on the production and handling of the products enabling the employees to effectively explain the product to the market.
On its innovations journey Ecosave Africa has continued urging, supporting and encouraging citizens to produce biogas from their waste to replace conventional fuels that lead to green house gases effects. “We have helped our customers get value out of waste and some are using biogas in their homes since we have helped them to trap it in special domes. We are also working at a site in Kiserian, Kajiado County, where biogas containerization is being undertaken on a small scale,” Wanjuki explains. According to him the dearth of standards and legislation for this undertaking in the country has stopped probable commercialization of biogas production.
Wanjuki is keen to continue on the journey of making Ecosave Africa a key partner and voice in waste water management in East Africa. “We are also keen to have the company listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) in the next five years. We hope the government shall acknowledge and adopt our solutions for use in waste water management given their proven efficacy and role in the past,” explains Wanjuki.
He regrets the fact that Kenya loses lots of her waste water which could otherwise be recycled and used for economic activities and job creation. He urges Kenyans to believe in themselves and their products and innovations. “Ecotreat would have been very popular had it been produced and tested in a foreign country as opposed to today when some people still underrate it since it’s a Kenyan innovation, he affirms.
He, however, acknowledges and appreciates the great support Ecosave Africa has received from SMEs who have been using its solutions. “When institutions including SMEs accept our products, the credibility and sales improve. Most of our sales have been from referrals sent by SMEs and other big firms,” appreciates Wanjuki.
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