Turning Trash into Cash in Ethiopia

According to statistics from the UN, the world's urban population has already increased from about 38% in 1975 to almost 50% in 2007 and will rise further to approximately 70% by 2050.

With a rapidly expanding population the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa is heading towards mega-city status, but it is also facing severe social, economic and environmental problems. Mike Speck looks at how a German government funded programme is helping the locals recycle waste into resources through a number of pilot projects.

According to statistics from the UN, the world's urban population has already increased from about 38% in 1975 to almost 50% in 2007 and will rise further to approximately 70% by 2050. Furthermore, by 2007 72% of that urban population was located in 'less developed regions', leading to severe challenges in resource management. With the aim of tackling this situation, a joint research project â Income Generation and Climate Protection (IGNIS), aims to sustainably valorise municipal solid wastes in emerging mega-cities, and is running a number of pilot projects, including Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa pilot projects

Due to migration from rural areas Addis Ababa suffers from a high rate of population growth and is currently estimated to have a population 2.8 million, which is expected to reach six million within 20 years. As a result of this urban growth, Addis Ababa is facing severe social, economic and environmental problems. According to the Addis Ababa Sanitation, Beautification and Park's Development Agency (SBPDA) the daily waste generation of the city is about 0.252 kg per capita per day. Applying a population of 2.8 million the annual solid waste generation equates to 257,544 tonnes. Futhermore, about 72.4% of the generated solid waste is collected, of which about 90% is landfilled, about 5% recycled and 5% composted, according to the SBPDA. The remaining 17.6% is disposed in open spaces, ditches, rivers, etc. or is burned on the streets or in back-yards.

The scientific basis of the IGNIS project consists of experimental pilot projects with the majority comprising small-scale and decentralised projects to help improve collection and recycling.

Paper recycling

One of the first pilots developed by the IGNIS project is a paper recycling facility. The plant had been originally established in December 2005 by its owner operator who had attended a course, where he learnt, how to produce recycled paper. To further improve his knowledge of the business, he later completed self-funded training on handmade paper production in Uganda, where he learned more of the production process machinery. The operator agreed to affiliate his business to the IGNIS project in order to learn about further improvement opportunities.

The paper recycling manufacturing facility comprises a production centre, where waste paper and other wastes such as banana leafs and teff straws are converted into paper sheets. The facility also comprises a converting centre, where the paper sheets are refined into finished products such as postcards, photo frames, notebooks and coffee bags. The production centre is located in a small hut in a schoolyard, whereas the converting centre can be found in a small room located in the backyard of a residential household.

Together with the operator, five people are employed within the company, demonstrating that it is possible to utilise waste to establish a business and subsequently generate income. Beside many other ongoing projects in Addis Ababa the findings show that the paper recycling manufactory is well operated and seems to be sustainable. The reason for that might be that the operator identifies himself with his business and as a consequence is constantly looking for further improvements or new products.

As a first improvement measure within IGNIS, the operator was funded to train in handmade paper production in India. Thereafter, the quality of the paper improved significantly. The business makes a profit of around 50,000 Birr ($3000) per year demonstrating that such projects can generate income, while recycling waste into a resource in the developing world's cities and urban areas.

Korales - recyclable collectors

In Addis Ababa, some individuals, so called 'korales', already generate income by collecting recyclables. These korales purchase metals, plastics, reusable bottles, worn out shoes and clothes from households, having announced their presence in the street by shouting. The purchased material is carried in rice/wheat bags to the market place where it is sold to intermediate buyers.

However, the bags are heavy and due to a combination of the hard work and malnutrition, the korales, are often of slight build and frequently suffer serious back problems. Another one of the pilot project aims to help alleviate occupational hazards of these people to allow for future income generation through this activity.

At present, the organisation is working with three korales. Since IGNIS's methods to improve the situation have to start from the current conditions, it conducted a detailed risk assessment by accompanying each of the korales for one entire working day and recording data on processes, activities and safety and health aspects.

Risk evaluation confirmed the high physical load caused by carrying heavy weights over long distances with unsuitable equipment as well as increased dermal exposure of hands and back due to the handling of sharp items.

The project concluded that it would be relatively simple to adapt the carrying equipment in such a fashion as to abate the hazards significantly. Korales know the demands of their work best, so their input was essential in the development of the new equipment. Moreover, their involvement in the process creates a sense of ownership and lead to a better acceptance of the developed solution and an effective application.

The result was a backpack with a belt that transfers the weight to the hips. Walking with free hands increases balance and the backpack enables the worker to investigate potential purchases without having to set down and lift the weight. A prototype was constructed from recycled plastic straps used for tying large bulks of merchandise. This was tested and adjusted, and a second version is being tested in the field by the recyclables collectors.

Plastic and metal recycling

The project is also investigating appropriate small scale, affordable recycling technology for treating waste plastics. To this end it is conducting a survey that is looking into existing facilities and technologies and analysing the impacts on the environment. It is also looking into occupational safety and health issues, as well as markets and quality requirements and trading prices. A similar investigation is also underway into current and potential metal recycling in the city.

Mega growth: Addis Ababa's population is expected to increase to 6 million within 20 years

In addition to recycling, IGNIS is also piloting a decentralised composting project operated by a youth association and located next to the waste source. The input for the composting plant is biowaste from a nearby fruit and vegetable market. The biowaste is collected and delivered to the plant by pushcarts. The youth group was trained to operate the composting plant properly, so that no odour will disturb the neighbourhood. This is a crucial aspect as the composting plant is located in the city centre.

In another pilot project, a women's group - under the umbrella of the NGO Women In Self-Employment (WISE) - is operating a small-scale production of charcoal briquettes from organic waste material, such as khat, that uses soil and molasse as binding agent. The mean calorific value of the briquettes is 15 MJ/ kg briquette.

The resource for the briquettes is either waste charcoal or charcoal from a self-operated carbonisation step, where organic waste material is converted into charcoal. However, due to severe fume emissions, the WISE women are currently not operating the carbonisation process, and IGNIS is prioritising the development of the carbonisation, possibly with introduction of an afterburner, so that the emissions could be significantly reduced.

"Korales" generate income by collecting recyclables but this activity can lead to health issues

The pilot projects are analysed in terms of material flow, technology, profitability, occupational safety and health, environmental, social and economic aspects. Thus, it will be possible to assess the potentials as well as the limitations of different technologies and approaches to improve the existing waste management system.

Efficient waste management goals

For fast growing megacities in developing countries it is necessary to urgently reconsider entrenched systems of waste management. Limited financial resources occurring frequently in line with an unstable economic situation, require know-how, flexibility and creativity. A simple transfer of standardised disposal concepts is not feasible. Here IGNIS is helping to provide the basics for new approaches to efficient waste management, combining professional expertise and locally adapted ideas and technologies.

Mike Speck & Isabelle Best are from the IZES GmbH â Institute for FutureEnergySystems

Dieter Steinbach & Andrea Schultheis are from AT-Verband/Association. email: speck@izes.de

Project note: The IGNIS research and development project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the research topic for sustainable development of future mega-cities "Energy and climate efficient structures in urban growth centres". The joint research project is carried out by the partners AT-Association, University of Stuttgart, IZES, BAuA, ENDA, Addis Ababa University and Addis Ababa EPA under the coordination of the AT-Association from June 2008 until May 2013.

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