By Sharon Atieno

In line with the theme of innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production, the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi is a hive of activities with diverse innovators showcasing innovative ways of tackling environmental challenges.

In a bid to rid the environment from fish waste, Newton Owino, a leather chemist, has set up a fish leather tannery in the lake region of Kisumu, Kenya. “Our main business is to manage fish waste from processing or filleting of fish along Lake Victoria,” he said in an interview during the UNEA conference.

The area has five filleting companies which produce around 150, 000 metric tonnes of fish waste. The initial method of dumping the waste in landfills resulted in environmental degradation, as vultures and hyenas would come and dig up the waste.

Some of the products from the tannery

“I decided against using modern ways of tanning using heavy metals and identified natural plants that contain tanning compounds such as cassava, banana and paw paw which are found within the locality,” said Owino, “heavy metals perforate in to the soil finding their way into the marine eco-system, I wanted to protect the marine eco-system and safeguard the livelihoods of the people in this region.”

The fish tannery uses natural products from fish to plant extracts to produce shoes, wallets and jackets from fish leather.

The AWG machine that produces water from air

With around 2.1 billion people lacking access to safely managed drinking water services, Drinkable Air Company has come up with atmospheric water generation (AWG) technology which produces pure drinking water from air.

The AWG machine captures humidity from the air and converts it into pure drinking water through an ozone purification process which kills bacteria and enriches the water with oxygen. The machines come in various sizes with the smallest producing 10 gallons of water daily while the largest produces 1800 gallons daily.

A customer inquiring at the Drinkable Air stand at UNEA

Poor handling of crops from the farm to storage is one of the main causes of post-harvest losses leading to food insecurity. To address this, GranSilo, a domestic grain silo with a 30 year expected lifespan has been developed.

It has the capacity to store four 90 kilogram bags of maize and other produce. After putting the adequately dried grain into the silo, it is clamp shut for two to three weeks. The air-tight and water-tight sealing ensures that oxygen in the silo is depleted and all pests including weevils die.

Through the outlet fitting near the bottom of the silo, the grain can be accessed for consumption. The GranSilo carries a capacity of 500 kilogrammes while a similar metallic silo holds a capacity of 1 metric tonne.

Through an innovation known as aquablue fish farm, a group of university students are able to recycle pond water from fish ponds and use it for irrigation or re-use it in the pond.

The pond water after being passed through a reservoir to remove particles is drained using a pipe into a bio-filter. The bio-filter contains different layers of materials ranging from nets or sponges, pumice, charcoal and pebbles or river rocks that are placed in a container.

In the bio-filtration stage, the pond water containing fish excrete is broken down into nitrate and nitrite and the resulting water is drained into another container through a pipe.

In the bio-indicator stage, samples of fish are put into the drained water to determine whether the water has a high concentration of nitrate or not. If the concentration is high, the fish will die, if the concentration is low, the fish will survive.

The nitrate concentrated water is then used for irrigation while the lowly concentrated water is returned to the pond or aquifer for re-use as it is not harmful.

The different innovations exhibited at the UNEA conference are evidence that different approaches can be used to solve environmental challenges. There is no one size fits all approach to each challenge.