In­di­vid­u­als and con­ser­va­tion groups are work­ing across the con­ti­nent to stop lit­ter­ing, elim­i­nate sin­gle-use plas­tics, re­cy­cle and use waste to gen­er­ate en­ergy and em­brace sustainable en­ergy sources


FOR years, Kenyans freely used and dis­posed of plas­tic bags. The bags were in the mar­kets, in the gut­ters and in the guts of three out of every 10 an­i­mals taken to slaugh­ter.

Nakuru, a town north-west of Nairobi, was a par­tic­u­lar eye­sore, with a poorly man­aged dump site that left bags strewn across roads.

It drove Nakuru res­i­dent James Wak­ibia to des­per­a­tion and then to ac­tivism. Wak­ibia wrote let­ters to lo­cal pa­pers, posted on so­cial me­dia, launched the hash­tag #ban­plas­tic­sKE and joined lo­cal group InTheStreet­sofNakuru to pe­ti­tion the Kenyan govern­ment to ban sin­gle-use plas­tic bags.

It got peo­ple talk­ing.

Fi­nally, in Au­gust 2017, Kenya passed a land­mark law ban­ning the pur­chase, sale or use of plas­tic bags. Of­fend­ers risk four years in prison or a $40000 fine (R571000).

“Plas­tic bags were all over the place,” Wak­ibia said. “But now the once-clogged drains are flowing and road­sides are free from plas­tic bags. There is a vis­i­ble change.”

The trash and plas­tics night­mare can be found across the con­ti­nent. Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa pro­duces 62mil­lion tons of waste a year, in­clud­ing plas­tic waste, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. With Africa’s rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion and eco­nomic growth, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ex­pect that fig­ure to dou­ble by 2025.

Yet Africa’s epi­demic of waste may con­tain the seeds of a so­lu­tion to an­other stub­born prob­lem – the en­ergy short­age. In sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa some 609 mil­lion peo­ple

(6 out of 10) have no ac­cess to elec­tric­ity, and about 80per­cent of those in ru­ral ar­eas lack elec­tric­ity ac­cess, ac­cord­ing to 2017 data by the World Bank.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa ex­pe­ri­ence an aver­age of 56 days of shut­down time a year due to power out­ages, the African De­vel­op­ment Bank noted in 2017.

To achieve univer­sal en­ergy ac­cess, Africa re­quires an in­vest­ment of more than $1.5 tril­lion in the en­ergy sec­tor be­tween 2018 and 2050. With­out it, sub-Sa­ha­ran

Africa will be home to an es­ti­mated 89per­cent of the world’s en­ergy poor by 2030, ac­cord­ing to a re­port last year by the In­ter­na­tional

En­ergy Agency (IEA), which ad­vises gov­ern­ments on en­ergy pol­icy.

To meet de­mand, ex­plo­ration is un­der way to con­vert the mount­ing piles of rub­bish into much-needed en­ergy – and some coun­tries are show­ing how that can be done.

This year Ethiopia com­pleted the Rep­pie ther­mal plant, Africa’s first waste-to-en­ergy plant, which has the ca­pac­ity to in­cin­er­ate 1400 tons of waste a day. The plant han­dles 80per­cent of Ad­dis Ababa’s waste and con­verts it into elec­tric­ity that, when the plant be­comes fully oper­a­tional, will serve 3 mil­lion peo­ple – pro­vid­ing 30per­cent of the cap­i­tal city’s needs.

To ex­e­cute the $120m project, the Ethiopian govern­ment part­nered with China Na­tional Elec­tric En­gi­neer­ing, which worked with Cam­bridge In­dus­tries and its man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Sa­muel Ale­mayehu, a Stan­ford-ed­u­cated engi­neer and for­mer Sil­i­con Val­ley en­tre­pre­neur.

“The Rep­pie project is just one com­po­nent of Ethiopia’s broader strat­egy to ad­dress pol­lu­tion and em­brace re­new­able en­ergy across all sec­tors of the econ­omy,” said Zeruba­bel Ge­tachew, Ethiopia’s deputy per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN. “We hope Rep­pie will serve as a model for other coun­tries in the re­gion and around the world.”

With only 4per­cent of the con­ti­nent’s waste be­ing re­cy­cled, Africa’s waste man­age­ment is still in its in­fancy, ac­cord­ing to a 2018 re­port by the UN En­vi­ron­ment and the Coun­cil for Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search, a South Africabased re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion.

South Africa may be an out­lier. PET Re­cy­cling, a South African com­pany, re­ported in 2016 that plas­tic bot­tle re­cy­cled ton­nage had grown by 822per­cent in the coun­try since 2005.

“Cur­rently South Africa does not have manda­tory puni­tive leg­is­la­tion in place which makes sepa­ra­tion of re­cy­clables (from the waste stream) in homes, of­fices, restau­rants and bars com­pul­sory. Manda­tory sepa­ra­tion at the source will en­sure greater re­cy­cling suc­cess in years to come,” said Shabeer Jhetam, an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Glass Re­cy­cling Com­pany.

With­out leg­isla­tive back­ing, Wak­ibia is scep­ti­cal about sustainable prac­tices across Africa.

“I think the big­gest hin­drance to en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is when politi­cians have vested in­ter­ests,” he told UN En­vi­ron­ment.

“For ex­am­ple, many politi­cians are share­hold­ers of com­pa­nies en­gaged in lum­ber­ing, or deal­ing with plas­tics. So it be­comes hard for them to sup­port any ini­tia­tives call­ing for sustainable forestry or a ban on sin­gle-use plas­tics.

“I’m glad the govern­ment of Kenya has called for mas­sive tree plant­ing across the coun­try. I hope they will walk the talk.”

The sun could be an­other source of sustainable en­ergy in Africa. Africa has 117per­cent more sunshine than Ger­many, the global leader in so­lar en­ergy. Ow­ing to its de­creas­ing cost and in­creas­ing con­ve­nience, so­lar en­ergy is pro­jected to be­come the world’s largest source of en­ergy by 2050, states a 2017 re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Re­new­able En­ergy Agency.

Light­ing Africa, a World Banksup­ported project started by mu­sic icon Akon, his child­hood friend Thione Niang and Malian phi­lan­thropist Samba Bathily, hopes to pro­vide so­lar en­ergy so­lu­tions to 250 mil­lion peo­ple across sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa by 2030.

Since its es­tab­lish­ment in

2014, Light­ing Africa has pro­vided elec­tric­ity ac­cess to nearly 29 mil­lion peo­ple in 25 African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Sierra Leone.

Morocco leads the pack in so­lar en­ergy in Africa. With 32per­cent of its en­ergy needs cur­rently com­ing from re­new­able sources, the coun­try is on track to hit 44per­cent by 2020.

Morocco’s so­lar en­ergy am­bi­tion is an­chored on the $9bil­lion Ouarza­zate so­lar power sta­tion, also called Noor power sta­tion, in the DrâaTafi­lalet re­gion.

The power sta­tion is ex­pected to pro­duce elec­tric­ity for over 1 mil­lion homes by the end of this year. The Spanish con­sor­tium TSK-Ac­cionaSener is help­ing to de­velop the project.

How­ever, some coun­tries’ re­liance on fos­sil fu­els for en­ergy and rev­enue may be ham­per­ing in­vest­ments in re­new­ables.

Nige­ria, for ex­am­ple, pro­duces and sells about 2.2 mil­lion bar­rels of oil a day, which ac­counted for 69per­cent of its rev­enues in 2017, re­ported Nige­ria’s Cen­tral Bank.

With­out the ca­pac­ity to re­fine suf­fi­cient oil for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion, Nige­ria sub­sidises fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion by up to $2.5bn yearly, notes the IEA, which warns that such sub­si­dies put un­due strain on gov­ern­ments’ bud­gets and cre­ate ob­sta­cles for emerg­ing low-car­bon busi­nesses and the re­new­ables sec­tor.

An­gola, Ivory Coast, Mozam­bique, Tanzania, Zam­bia and Zim­babwe, among other coun­tries, each sub­sidised fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion by more than $1bn in 2015, states the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Trade and Sustainable De­vel­op­ment.

Even South Africa in­creased its sub­sidy for fos­sil fu­els from $2.9bn in 2014 to $3.5bn in 2016, de­spite a com­mit­ment the coun­try made at the 2009 G20 sum­mit to phase out sub­si­dies, notes the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, whose mem­bers are the world’s rich­est na­tions.

South Africa is also home to 31bil­lion tons of re­cov­er­able coal, the sixth largest store in the world.

Both the Paris Agree­ment and Goal 12 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable De­vel­op­ment re­quire coun­tries to fo­cus less on fos­sil fu­els and more on re­new­ables.

African gov­ern­ments are con­cerned that phas­ing out sub­si­dies could trig­ger hikes in the cost of petroleum prod­ucts and elec­tric­ity, lead­ing to so­cial un­rest. |­newal

AN IVO­RIAN woman col­lects plas­tic bot­tles to sell for re­cy­cling from the gen­eral waste at the Ak­ouedo re­cy­cling de­pot and land­fill site in Abid­jan, Ivory Coast. Plas­tic pol­lu­tion has reached epi­demic pro­por­tions. | EPA


TSH­WANE land­fill work­ers and in­de­pen­dent waste col­lec­tors all work­ing at the On­der­stepoort land­fill site. Only 4 per­cent of Africa’s wassste is be­ing re­cy­cled. |

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