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Students Give Refugees a Lifeline by Turning Coffee Grounds into Firewood

Photo: Moto

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Students Give Refugees a Lifeline by Turning Coffee Grounds into Firewood

Three students from the University of Toronto are brewing an idea that could use the city’s immense amount of coffee grounds to help refugees in sub-Saharan Africa.

By drying out the grounds and mixing them with paraffin wax and sugar, Sam Bennett, Lucy Yang, and Gowtham Ramachandran are producing Moto logs – burnable billets that could replace the real firewood used in the refugee camps.

While the idea reuses a waste product in Toronto and saves wood in Africa, the real beauty of the logs is the impact they’ll have on the lives of those who will use them.

The students believe they could eliminate the need for women and children to leave the safety of their camps and scavenge for firewood.

“As soon as they’re out of the camp, they’re unsafe and that leaves them open to assault,” Sam Bennett told CBC Toronto.

“[Moto] prevents the dangers associated with that, but also frees women up to spend time doing other things, whether that’s trying to find another source of revenue or spending time educating their kids.”

Bennett added that keeping Moto ‘super low-tech’ was key, as the eventual plan is for people in Africa to produce the logs locally.

The three ingredients are mixed together, put in a loaf pan, and baked until ready.

The log can then be used for almost 90 minutes, although the team are working to increase the burn time.

Moto is in the running for the Hult Prize, and winning the million-dollar first prize could see the social enterprise take off in earnest.

The team will compete in the regional round in March in Shanghai, China, and the eventual winner will be announced in September.

“It’s become something more than just a competition,” said Moto co-founder Gowtham Ramachandran. “We want to make this thing work.”

“We’re thinking of creating basically micro-entrepreneurs, who would produce the logs and then distribute them throughout the camp. When you free up a quarter of someone’s day, the potentials are pretty boundless.”

A 2014 survey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revealed 90 per cent of refugees in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda rely on firewood to cook.

The ultimate goal for the Moto team is to help these people.

Their next step now is to connect with NGOs in Africa and refugees living in Toronto to understand how to improve Moto and make it even more life-changing for them.

from CBC News

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