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CaribShare Biogas -1st Caribbean social enterprise turning organic waste into clean energy, fertilizer, and social good

We recycle organic waste from hotels and small pig farms into clean energy and fertilizer in a manner that strengthens rural livelihoods.

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CaribShare Biogas is a social enterprise and registered charity in Jamaica collecting food waste from hotels and manure from small pig farms that when processed by our biodigester plant produces biogas (type of biofuel) and fertilizer for sale. Our mission is to deliver clean energy from organic waste in a manner that strengthens rural livelihoods.

We sell the biogas to business customers who are high energy users so they can self-generate electricity to achieve significant cost savings from purchasing from the grid.

We also sell the organic fertilizer at a highly affordable rate to farmers to help lower their production cost and promote organic farming.

And, through our “Waste to Cash” program, we share up to 50% of our surplus revenues from biogas and fertilizer sales with our participating pig farmers as generous cash rewards in exchange for supplying us their waste. In this way, we provide meaningful income to help support their families and the vitality of their communities, which is essentially our social mission.

We recycle and divert tremendous quantities of organic waste from landfills, and are thrilled about using it as a valuable resource to help solve the challenges of renewable energy, climate change, and rural poverty.  We plan to develop several biodigester plants in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries to broaden our socio-economic impact across the region.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

After 3+ inspiring and challenging years of development, we started operations on September 1, 2016 with a staff of 6 at our pilot 400 m3 biodigester plant in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Our plant is currently processing food waste from 6 major hotels, and next month we will be adding waste from 50+ pig farms from the surrounding area. Undoubtedly, over the coming months, our idea will be tested as we aim to turn organic waste into energy, fertilizer, and social good.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We are collecting tremendous quantities of food waste from our participating hotels. So, it is essential that their kitchen staff appropriately sort the waste and put only organics into our green CaribShare bins. Getting the staff to comply so that waste sorting becomes instinctual is a challenge given their high turnover. In addition, the kitchens are often cramped, making space available for both inorganic and organic waste bins tricky. We need your help on how best to address these issues.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have a multidisciplinary background with over 15 years experience working in business, sustainability, and international development for such companies and institutions as Sears Canada, Canadian Institute of Planners, and the Ministry of Energy in Jamaica. In addition, I have a MBA degree in International Economics & Finance from Brandeis International Business School and a MS degree in Environmental Planning from the University of Toronto.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s launched and we’re working on gathering more feedback – it’s existed for over 6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

CaribShare collects organic waste from hotels and farms, and then feeds it into our biodigester plant to produce biogas (type of biofuel) and fertilizer for sale. We then share our surplus revenues with our participating farmers. In this way, we provide them an extra income source to help support their families, while disposing of waste sustainably and producing renewable energy.

[Only for launched ideas] How does your idea differ from what you're already doing?

We have launched our idea and have been operating our pilot biodigester for just over a month. So far, the results have been favorable as we are already diverting about 4 tons of food waste daily from landfills. By November, this quantity will increase to about 10 tons daily to produce enough biogas to generate 100 kW of clean electricity. Over the coming months, we will continue to solicit feedback from our partners. However, our idea has not differed from what we are currently doing.

How is your idea unique to the space?

CaribShare is the first organic waste recycling facility and biogas plant in Jamaica to generate electricity on a sustained basis. Our pioneering program is a key energy solution both for Jamaica and the Caribbean, a region with a pressing need to utilize organic waste as a renewable energy source to help alleviate its heavy dependency on expensive fossil fuel imports. And, as a social enterprise, we generate significant social good in addition to our environmental and energy benefits.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

We already have strong support from the hotel and farming communities in Jamaica. However, we need the support of social impact investors and funders to implement our growth plan to develop additional biogas plants in Jamaica and the Caribbean. By scaling up, we will be better able to deliver immense social good in addition to our environmental and energy benefits. As a social enterprise and registered charity, we are seeking funding support in the forms of grants and low interest loans.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

We plan to measure the impact of our idea from the following indicators: (i) Quantities of organic waste collected monthly from hotels and diverted from landfills, (ii) Quantities of biogas produced and electricity generated monthly, (iii) Quantities of organic fertilizer produced monthly, (iv) Quantities of greenhouse gas emission reductions monthly, (v) Number of participating pig farmers quarterly, (vi) Amount of cash rewards distributed to participating farmers quarterly.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

(i) Continue to operate our pilot biodigester plant efficiently and to master biogas production for electricity generation, (ii) Continue to build collaborative relationships with our hotel and farming partners, (iii) Continue to embed proper waste sorting practices in hotel operations, (iii) Continue to nurture a culture of empowerment for our employees, (iv) Continue to drive social impact in our target farming communities, (v) Continue to seek funding to support CaribShare’s growth plan.

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I want to say I love this concept, and I think the experiment can be taken much further. Here is what I was thinking: Transformation of Latent Value The problem of food waste and its value stream...   If you ever tour the Chicago Board of Trade in Chicago you will learn that Derivatives or Futures Exchange revolutionized food distribution. Before grain Futures grain rotted on the docks and went to waste. There was no mechanism for commodity prices to sync with market requirements. In other words the solution was to monetize the waste stream and play a little bit of jazz with the Value Stream. We tend to think of Waste as the opposite of Value. But with solid or liquified organic waste, the problem is a bit more complex. So is the opportunity. During college I read a book about the Chinese cultural revolution and I distinctly remember a story about collecting “night soil” and how they used it to fertilize their fields. In other words, processed food waste = fertilizer = food. So, why don’t we just hook up our sewer system and garbage disposals to the farming grid and let them use our “waste” to grow new food? Simple, right, well, not so much. What about the other gross stuff that people put down their drain? Bleach, chemicals of every sort, paint, soap, shampoo, dishwashing detergent, various non-bio items, Hmmm, that is really a problem, unless? Unless, someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to change. It’s not. (--the Lorax) So, why not bifurcate the waste stream like we did with “sanitary” and “storm” sewers? Maybe I just wanted to use the word bifurcate, but instead of dumping toxic stuff into the waste stream we make a way to make it better. Bio-positive shampoo, dish detergent, laundry detergent. Is that so difficult to imagine? Yes, I am talking about an architectural, political, plumbing revolution! It doesn’t even need to happen right now, but a change in the building code could be mandated by law, and over 20+ years, we could change from a society that doesn’t live in harmony with Nature, to a society that manages and improves Nature. Does anybody really know what happens to our poop and waste water right now? What happens to the stuff we flush down the toilet? Silly, I don’t really know. We take it for granted. This is how we do it! Yet. I wonder? What if we monitor our sewer systems? Doesn’t it make you a little frustrated to know that if you run your sprinkler system in the summer you get charged for the same amount of sewer usage as you do water usage as if you were dumping the lawn water down the sewer. Hmm. That seems wrong. Do we do that right now? if we do it is not very transparent. Same with all utilities: We know that we use less electricity if we know when and how we use it. We are getting nickel and quartered by our utilities. Internet of things can mean a paradigm shift for our interaction with utilities grid. What if we prove how we can rework, reuse, tranform, waste, and then as we discover the value of the waste we can slowly change the pathways for distribution. It is a fact that the US has an old and in some cases failing water/sewer infrastructure. Now is the time to rethink sensible ways to redesign those systems for the next 100+ years. 

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