Tackling Africa’s waste problem with smart energy solutions

Plastic pollutants at a coastal beach. [File]
Africa is hungry for energy. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), only 24 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans have access to electricity, and the energy generation capacity of the African continent (excluding South Africa) is only 28 Gigawatts, equal to that of Argentina alone.

With the current state of low energy consumption and access, even individuals connected to a power grid experience, on average, 54 days of power outage a year; that’s darkness for 15 per cent of the year. The WEF also projected that the demand for energy solutions was only set to rise with increasing population, urbanisation and economic productivity.

The move towards innovative ways of turning what was once termed a waste crisis into a sustainable solution for a struggling sector is quickly becoming commonplace among African leaders, as well as organisations in the public and private sectors.

Spanning decades, the shortage of sustainable energy has embedded itself into the very fabric of socio-economic factors that plague Africa, lending credence to the tag ‘the dark continent’ and making it more than just a metaphor. Africa’s immediate need for energy has catalysed the growth of the waste-to-energy industry globally.

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Stellar example

In the waste-to-energy conversation, Sweden stands out as a stellar example, having wholly turned its waste problem into a solution.

The country began its waste management revolution in the 1980s with the development of incineration plants, as disposal sites became harder to find and leachate pollutants became a significant problem.

Today, the country incinerates 50 per cent of its waste to generate energy, and recycles about 49 per cent, leaving only 1 per cent to go into the landfill.

In Africa, Ethiopia became the first country to launch a full waste-to-energy plant in Addis Ababa after a dumpsite landslide killed more than 100 people in March 2017.

The plant will incinerate 1,400 tonnes of waste every day and is planned to supply 30 per cent of the city’s electricity requirement. The waste-to-energy plant will divert waste from the Koshe dumpsite and is being financed by a public-private partnership between the Ethiopian government and a consortium of investors from Singapore, China and Denmark.

Visionscape, an environment company providing turn-key solutions in the areas of waste management, is on the cusp of offering a lasting solution to address two significant challenges facing emerging markets – waste management and sustainable energy.

Operating a closed loop system, Visionscape is using its sustainable business model to reduce the carbon footprint by recycling and reusing 90 per cent of the materials manufactured and the waste collected to provide waste-to-energy solutions in various markets.

Energy needs

Visionscape presently doubles as the official residential waste collector and the concessionaire developing the backbone infrastructure for an integrated waste management system. Speaking to the waste-to-energy needs, the group was also building the first engineered sanitary landfill/Eco-park in West Africa.

Harvesting and sharing knowledge in global best practices, Visionscape’s Eco-park model will receive waste ranging from agricultural to household organic waste and industrial slurry. The plant will also generate electricity for the Eco-park.

Excess energy produced will be distributed to surrounding communities as one of the company’s community sustainability investments.

The successful deployment of this pioneering facility is expected to open the market and encourage more public and private investment in waste-to-energy projects.

Beyond the process of energy generation, and to guarantee the completion of the sustainability chain in a zero-waste loop, the end product from the process is rich in ADP, which is used as fertiliser for farmlands.

The chain creates a complete cycle - from farmland waste to energy generation and back to providing fertilisers for the farms, ensuring that nothing is wasted.

The closed-loop system of production has been a conversation among environmental experts for decades.

The need for other like-minded think-tanks to champion the cause in Africa and other new economies has become imperative.

Organisations should pay attention and seek to adopt sustainable models that promote viable solutions to Africa’s pressing environmental and economic challenges.

Mr Makanjuola is a director of environmental management think-tank Visionscape Group

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