Local innovations tackle sawdust disposal problem

The timber industry is one of the country`s largest foreign currency earners after minerals such as platinum, gold and diamonds and employs thousands of people.

Aleck Mlambo, Allied Timbers Operations Director for Sawmilling and Manufacturing.
Aleck Mlambo, Allied Timbers Operations Director for Sawmilling and Manufacturing.

But the issue of sawdust, a by-product of timber processing, has been a thorn in the flesh for producers across Manicaland province for years, with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) taking them to task over proper disposal mechanisms.

Enormous heaps of sawdust, particularly around sawmills in Chimanimani, Nyanga and Mutare, have become an eyesore. Some producers have resorted to burning it, but this has contributed to serious pollution as it takes ages to burn completely and has sparked serious wilf fires that have destroyed many plantations.

But there is hope on the horizon as one of the largest timber producers, Allied Timbers, has found a way of disposing of the sawdust in an environmentally friendly manner. The company engineers have produced an incinerator machine that burns the sawdust and uses the energy to heat boilers used for treatment of the timber.

Aleck Mlambo, Operations Director with Sawmilling and Manufacturing, said this would reduce the use of electricity and avoid problems caused by load shedding. He said the use of sawdust to heat the boilers would reduce their electricity bill and boost production.

Briquettes ready for market
Briquettes ready for market

Mutare inventor

Efforts by Allied Timbers will be boosted by the efforts of a Mutare inventor, Jack Furanera, who made a fuel briquette from saw dust he collected from local sawmills. The 30cm long briquette is used as alternative to fire wood and does not produce smoke.

Furanera said the briquettes were made using an Agico briquette marker, which compresses sawdust into a thick log. The logs are environmentally friendly as they do not produce the type of smoke that pollutes the environment.

Each briquette log can burn up to four hours continuously and produces charcoal that can be used for heating or cooking. “Briquettes are efficient and user-friendly,” said Furanera while giving a demonstration to local residents. They can be used for various purposes such as heating, cooking, and curing tobacco.

Employment

Besides conserving the forests and helping in waste management, disposing of sawdust by making briquettes has also created employment for youths, who are now working on a full-time basis.

The EMA’s provincial manager, Kingstone Chitotombe, said such innovations by individuals and companies were a welcome step forward in reducing environment degradation and pollution and the agency would support them.

“This is a welcome development and we will continue to support such initiatives,” said Chitotombe, adding that in Manicaland alone sawdust constituted 80% of waste

A local environmentalist and researcher, Mike Maingire, said it was high time government diverted its focus on funding research. “This is a brilliant idea which deserves all the support from both government and the private sector because it will help the country in the management of waste and reduce deforestation. As demand for energy continues to surge worldwide, there is need to produce more clean energy which is environmentally-friendly,” said Maingire.

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