Picture a community of 2,000 people, living on a landfill site where 3,000 tons of garbage is dumped everyday. To make a living, they sift through the garbage searching for recyclables. Their homes are shanty houses made out of scrap material and their children play around on heaps of trash: this is Kachra Kundi in Karachi Pakistan, a typical example of landfill slums developing on the outskirts of unsustainably exploding mega-cities across the developing world.
While the current situation is unacceptable, it would be a mistake to dismiss these communities as sorry anomalies that simply need to be relocated: in fact government attempts to evict the communities are usually unsuccessful and lead to violence. The continued presence of these communities, despite the harsh working and living conditions, reflects the fact that there is a dead-end in the current linear production model. There is incremental value to be salvaged from the unsustainable heaps of unprocessed trash being produced by cities like Karachi all over the world.
However, this value can be salvaged in safer and much more efficient ways and at the same time, the process can be fine-tuned to introduce optimal social and monetary value into landfill communities. This is the premise of em[POWER] Energy, a student-run social enterprise that focuses on developing community-owned and operated waste-to-energy businesses in the developing world.
At the heart of em[POWER]’s model lies simple biogas technology that has been in use for centuries: the organic content in the waste, which is currently just being burned away, can be used as an input into a biodigestion process that produces methane as the final product. This methane then runs a small electricity generator that powers up the community’s social amenities like the school and health clinic, and also forms the nucleus for a host of value-added, community-owned businesses that derive heavily on the by-products of the process.