Durban — A South African project that initially attempted to tackle poverty has shown potential to mitigate the effects of climate change and is expanding beyond the country's borders.
The Wonderbag project - a recyclable, insulated 'cooker' - focuses on developing countries and communities with high poverty, shortage of fuel supplies, high incidences of health problems associated with air pollution, and injuries from fuel fires.
The bag is a heat-retention cooker and requires only enough heat to start the cooking process.
The bag is now in the final stages of being registered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a programmatic Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project.
This means that for every bag sold, verified carbon offsets will be traded on the international market.
The CDM is promoting Programs of Activities (PoAs) as a new mechanism to assist developing countries to help low-income groups on a large scale.
Wonderbag, made up of two poly-cotton bags filled with expanded polystyrene balls, is developed by Natural Balance and is one of South Africa's first PoAs.
Some benefits of the Wonderbag include improved air quality in homes by reducing smoke from cooking fires and it reduces the risk of shack fires caused by paraffin stoves.
Households can save around 50 percent of energy used for cooking and food wastage is reduced as food cannot burn or overcook.
From the stovetop, meals can be transported in the Wonderbag over long distances while the cooling properties allow people dependant on public transport to bring their food purchases home before they spoil.
The manufacturing process, meanwhile, creates jobs and develops skills.
Sarah Collins, the mastermind behind the Wonderbag, said her product is based on her grandmother's experiences on their farm and involved several experiments before the bag was operational.
"Initially this project was aimed at poverty alleviation but now it's offering a global solution. In March we extended to the UK, have an office in east Rwanda and a pilot project in Brazil," said Collins.
There are plans to expand the project into the most developing countries in Africa in 2012/13.
"Expansion plans globally are underway based on investor partnerships and finalisation of UNFCCC accreditation."
Leading up to COP17, theThekwini Municipality joined forces with Wonderbag to distribute 3 500 bags to households within the Cato Manor area in Durban.
Residents were shown how to use the Wonderbag and given their own to take home.
"Cato Manor was chosen for its broad-based population. We completed distributing the bags and we will monitor the situation over the next three months and set up co-ops," said Collins.
Derek Morgan, Head of the Durban Energy Office, said the product offered multiple benefits.
"Use of the Wonderbag for cooking saves money on fuel, contains less CO2 emissions and produces less pollution and toxic fumes, resulting in a cleaner environment, which reduces the incidence of respiratory and other diseases, particularly in children. In addition, the cooking method allows food to retain heat and nutrients whilst also reducing the risk of burns."
He added: "The project is intended to have a positive economic impact on the community, with job creation a central factor in the project's overall objectives."
Residents will be involved in the production and distribution of Wonderbag through the establishment of a co-op in the area.
The long term plan is to roll the project out across the eThekwini municipal area, setting up additional co-ops.