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The Wonderbag uses the age-old principles of insulation to create a non-electric slow-cooker that is able to cook food for up to 4 hours without any additional heat. Wonderbag’s impact is felt most in the poorest villages in the world, where “just through a puffy bag we can save fuel, prevent emissions and support disadvantaged communities to ultimately change their lives”. – Kenneth Dunn Wonderbag advocator
In its simplest form, the Wonderbag is a non-electric slow cooker that requires no input of electricity or continuous heat to cook food (Wonderbag., n.d.). It uses insulation to retain heat and cook food for 4 hours and then keep warm for up to 12 hours. To use the Wonderbag, one would boil their pot of food on a stove, then place the pot into the Wonderbag and seal it up. After 4 hours, you would remove it, and a perfectly cooked pot of food is ready to serve.
The bag is made of mostly polyurethane and recycled foam from furniture or car and airplane seats. The materials that are used are biodegradable and the bags are made to last up to 10 years with daily use.
Founder, Sarah Collins, grew up on a farm in South Africa and has spent most of her life working towards alleviating poverty and empowering women in Africa. Kenneth shared her story of inspiration for Wonderbag whereby during the 2008 Eskom power crisis, she drew from the memory of her grandmother “covering a boiling pot of food with cloth and pillows, then uncovering them hours later to have a pot of porridge” (Wonderbag World, 2015). Later that year she founded the Natural Balance company and started making the first Wonderbags with the intention of instigating social and environmental change (Cision PR Newswire, 2013).
As stated by Kenneth: “Currently,3 billion people cook their meals over an open fire every day. Every 20 seconds, someone will die from smoke-related health issues, and a disproportionate amount of these people are women”
The Wonderbag seeks to challenge this status quo, and at the same time tackle many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of 2030.
Wonderbags are sold around the world, with online retail stores in the US, Europe, and Australia. Natural Balance adopts the 'buy one donate one' business model, meaning the purchase of one Wonderbag results in an additional bag being donated to the Wonderbag Foundation (Cision PR Newswire, 2013). Through this, Wonderbag is able to sell their products at a fraction of the retail price to communities in Africa where they make the most impact.
The bags are also produced right in the communities of Tongaat-South Africa, with new centers established in Uganda, Malawi, and other areas in South Africa. Natural Balance employs women in these areas, providing them with a safe working environment, and decent pay (Wonderbag., n.d.).
During the interview, Kenneth reinforced that the Wonderbag is one of very few “tradable carbon offset (CO) products in the world” verified by the United Nations as a Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), enabling companies to invest in the form of buying CO. Contrary to standard CO the Wonderbag is a physical product that is able to be bought and sold to different stakeholders. At the same time, the Wonderbag also has other social and environmental benefits which make it more of an attractive investment compared to traditional CO. For instance, from 2011-2013, Unilever and Microsoft collectively purchased over 720 thousand tonnes of carbon by investing in Wonderbag (Wonderbag., n.d.; Unilever, 2012).
Kenneth reflected on his visits to disadvantaged communities in Africa, where he saw many women trapped in a “wholly consumptive process of spending 3 to 4 hours cooking on an open fire every evening, and a similar amount of time collecting the wood, water, and fuel required to make the food”. The Wonderbag is able to reduce this active cooking time from 4 hours to 25 minutes, meaning that women who normally are occupied 8 hours a day with chores are no longer time-poor. In the long term, this means that these women would be able to divert time into starting a business, seeking paid work, or even pursue an education (Wonderbag., n.d.). Kenneth also shared the success of the Wonderbag in areas that it has been introduced in, with “a drop in depression rates as well as an increase in education enrolment”.
Similarly, the Wonderbag is able to improve the health of families by both reducing indoor air pollution as well as retaining micronutrients in food that would normally be lost through traditional cooking methods. In many cases, indoor smoke is a main contributor to vision impairment, respiratory diseases, and cancer in the young and elderly (West et al., 2013).
Furthermore, the Wonderbag diverts 3+ hours of burning wood and topping up water every time it is used. On average this can reduce the amount of fuel and wood burnt by 70% and the amount of water used by 80% (Wonderbag., n.d.; Climate Neutral Group, n.d.). Both of these have a significant impact on the environment surrounding communities, decreasing the need to constantly collect resources that contribute to deforestation and soil erosion. The reduction of burnt wood also saves significant amounts of carbon from being released (hence its ability to be sold as a carbon offset). Since the launch of the Wonderbag, an average of 500 000 to 1 000 000 carbon offsets annually, and this number will continue to grow into the future more and more of these bags are sold around the world (Wonderbag., n.d.).
Cision PR Newswire. (2013). Wonderbag. A Unique Recipe for Change Launches in the United States. Cision. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/wonderbag-a-unique-recipe-for-change-launches-in-the-united-states-229091911.html
Climate Neutral Group. (n.d.) Wonderbag in South Africa. Climate Project. https://www.climateneutralgroup.com/en/climate-projects/wonderbag-in-south-africa/
Unilever. (2012). Investing in heat and light in South Africa. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/investing-heat-light-south-africa
West, S.K., Bates, M.N., Lee, J.S., Schaumberg, D.A., Lee, D.J., Adair-Rohani, H., Chen, D.F., Araj, H. (2013). Is Household Air Pollution a Risk Factor for Eye Disease? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(11), 5378-5398. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph10115378.
Wonderbag. (n.d.). Wonderbag. One planet. One Solution. Wonderbag. https://www.wonderbagworld.com/
Wonderbag World. (2015) The Wonderbag story of Sarah Collins [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx-WnJrp9_0&feature=emb_logo
Kenneth Dunn, Wonderbag Advocator