Smoke from open cooking fires kill 4 million people each year; these cookies can help

Dazin smokeless cookstove and fuel cookies
© Dazin

3 billion people still use open fires for cooking and heating, and it's literally killing them. This smokeless cookstove and its fuel cookies are one effective solution.

It's hard to imagine from the comfort of our modern homes, where we cook on stoves with electricity or natural gas, both of which are relatively benign to us, but for a great number of people in the developing world, the only way to cook or heat is by openly burning stuff.

Much of the time people burn wood, animal dung, or charcoal in open fires to provide cooked food for themselves, and while these fuels may be convenient to use, they are also incredibly unhealthy for those who use them and who breathe the smoke day in and day out. And in many places, gathering wood for cookfires and heating contributes to deforestation and desertification, which then adds to the long-term environmental impacts on both a local and regional level.

Regular exposure to smoke from cooking and heating fires is directly linked to severe health impacts, with an estimated eight people per minute dying globally - some 4.3 million per year - from it, accounting for more deaths each year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. And due to their long exposures every day at the home's hearth, women and young children are particularly at risk.

Those figures might be startling to most people (they certainly are to me), because in our little bubble of civilization, cooking and heating aren't inherently risky tasks, so we probably don't even have to think about indoor air quality. Unless we've traveled extensively or lived rough for long periods, chances are we can't even imagine using open fire indoors (or even outdoors) to cook all of our meals on, and yet for a huge number of people, that's the norm, every single day of their lives.

We know how to improve the situation, with one effective method being to switch to an appropriate alternative cooking method, such as 'smokeless' cookstoves, rocket stoves, or solar ovens, but for those 3 billion people that depend on open fire cooking, they can't just order one on Amazon with their debit card and have it delivered to their door. And the cost of purchasing a cleaner stove is also often far too high, relatively speaking to justify its purchase, because if you have to choose between feeding your family for a whole month or getting a clean stove, it's not a difficult choice to make.

One organization that's trying to make a difference in this issue is Dazin, which is a cooperative in Bhutan (though the same model could work in many other regions), a country with one of the highest rates of per capita firewood consumption in the world.

Their solution has two components, a smokeless stove and a 'Fuel Cookie' made from waste wood, which is said to enable the consumption of 84% less wood for the same tasks as an open fire. Instead of burning fuelwood for cooking or heating, "sustainably available" waste wood from the forest is collected by rural households and brought to a Dazin facility and turned into Fuel Cookies. Because these Fuel Cookies are more efficient to use, less time is spent collecting wood, and because they are virtually clean burning (with 98% less emissions than traditional open fires), the use of the stove and cookies can have a huge positive effect to a rural household.

"For example, a woman living in a rural area of Bhutan gives her wood waste to us, instead of burning it as she normally do [sic]. We turn this crowdsourced wood waste into condensed fuel ‘cookie’ and in return, give her a smokeless cookstove on lease and enough fuel cookies to cover her needs. The surplus fuel (70%) made from her crowdsourced wood waste, is sold at a competitive price to urban customers ensuring economic sustainability and further development. The stove cost in rural areas is recovered within 7 months due to the fuel sales in cities." - Dazin

Dazin solution© Dazin
Dazin has already run a successful pilot program in Tsirang, Bhutan, and has a large waiting list for more users, but they'd like to expand the program and then scale up in order to be able to replicate the program in other areas, so they've turned to crowdfunding with a campaign on SoSense.org. Backers can choose to fund a year's worth of Fuel Cookies for a family, sponsor a stove in Bhutan, or even get their own stove in a 'give one, get one' option, with the aim of the campaign to raise at least $40,000.

This is a really compelling and ambitious goal that Dazin is taking on, which is to make open cooking fire history, and "something we only see in museums by 2040." First Bhutan, then the world.

And in the grand scheme of things, where the latest tech gadget can raise millions of dollars with crowdfunding, raising $40,000 is very achievable. If you like what you see about the mission of Dazin, you might consider backing their project (or even just sharing their story around with people who would), because in a world where we're building autonomous cars, nobody should still have to die just from cooking their meals on an open fire.

Tags: Air Pollution | Air Quality | Health | Pollution

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