When Leroy Mwasaru was in his teens, he noticed a major problem at his Kenyan boarding school. Ageing pipes were leaking sewage directly into a nearby stream, which was a source of water for a neighbouring community.
Mwasaru, now 22, says he could not sit idly by and watch that happen. Armed with a few textbooks, he and several classmates set about building a system that would turn human waste into energy. The first prototype “blew up”, says Mwasaru, but the team eventually developed a working model that today powers the school.
That success would lead Mwasaru to found Greenpact, a start-up that produces affordable, high-quality waste-to-energy systems known as biogas digesters. The work would make Mwasaru the youngest entrepreneur on the Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list in 2018.
“Our goal is to become the leading provider of biogas energy solutions across Africa,” says Mwasaru, who is aiming to make the systems available to farmers, institutions and children’s homes.
Greenpact’s systems are used by 15,000 Kenyans. Its equipment connects to household sewage systems, traps waste and, through a simple chemical reaction, converts it into a gas that can be used for cooking. The system means Kenyans do not need to chop down trees for firewood, one of the leading causes of deforestation in a country that has lost over a third of its forest cover in the last 60 years.
“These people can now cook without having to use firewood or charcoal, all of which are harmful to their health and the environment,” says Mwasaru. “By using clean and renewable energy, we are taking steps towards a better environment. And every little step counts.”
Mwasaru’s work is a prime example of how young entrepreneurs can help tackle pressing environmental threats, says Gabriel Labbate, the team leader of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. The body is major supporter of a movement known as REDD+, an international effort to combat the loss of forest cover in developing countries.
“The link with REDD+ is clear,” says Labbate. “Waste-to-energy systems help reduce one of the drivers of deforestation by providing sustainable energy, reducing the need to cut trees while at the same time, reducing carbon emissions.”
Mwasaru’s work with Greenpact has been sidetracked by COVID-19. He is now teaming with his mother, a fashion designer, to produce face masks for hospitals and clinics. But once the pandemic has passed, he wants to expand Greenpact into the restaurant business, helping urban eateries use organic waste to generate power.
“We Africans need to solve our problems ourselves,” he says. “And by doing this, I hope to inspire youth to value their environment and think of ways to save it.”