From disaster to development: Lessons from Ethiopia’s first of its kind waste-to-energy project in Africa

From disaster to development: Lessons from Ethiopia’s first of its kind waste-to-energy project in Africa
  • Koshe used to be Ethiopia’s largest rubbish dumpsite and was said to be the size of 36 football pitches.
  • In 2017, It, however, made headlines after it killed about 114 people in one of the country’s worst ever garbage dump landslide.
  • Ethiopia has since turned the site into a new waste-to-energy plant via the Reppie Waste-to-Energy Project, the first of its kind in Africa.

Waste management remains one of the biggest challenges confronting many African countries and Ethiopia is one of them or at least used to be.

Koshe used to be Ethiopia’s largest rubbish dumpsite and was said to be the size of 36 football pitches. The open landfill also used to be home to hundreds of people who collect and resell rubbish trucked in from around the capital Addis Ababa.

In 2017, It, however, made headlines after it killed about 114 people in one of the country’s worst ever garbage dump landslide, compelling the government to rethink an alternative use for the site.

Ethiopia has since turned the site into a new waste-to-energy plant via the Reppie Waste-to-Energy Project, the first of its kind in Africa.

The new waste-to-energy plant forms part of government’s efforts to revolutionise waste management practices in the country.

The facility is the result of a partnership between the Government of Ethiopia and a consortium of international companies: Cambridge Industries Limited (Singapore), China National Electric Engineering and Ramboll, a Danish engineering firm.

Ethiopia invested $96 million in the plant which is constructed by British firm Cambridge Industries Limited and China National Electrical Engineering Company.  It took nearly four years to complete the project.

“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 United Nations in Nairobi.

“We hope that Reppie will serve as a model for other countries in the region, and around the world.”

The plant, which began operations last year in August, has the capacity to incinerate 1,400 tons of waste every day. This represents about 80 percent of the city’s waste generation.

The plant will also supply the people with 30 percent of their household electricity needs. The plant has since created jobs for 1,300 Ethiopians and 286 expatriates.

The waste-to-energy incineration plant will burn the rubbish in a combustion chamber. The heat produced will be used to boil water until it turns to steam, which drives a turbine generator that produces electricity.

The Reppie plant operates within the emissions standards of the European Union, as it contributes towards alleviating air pollution.

In cities where land is in short supply, “waste-to-energy” incineration is a quadruple win: it saves precious space, generates electricity, prevents the release of toxic chemicals into groundwater, and reduces the release of methane — a potent greenhouse gas generated in landfills — into the atmosphere.

According to Engineer Samuel Zemichael, a representative of Cambridge Industries, the facility is the first of its kind in Africa and has the potential to serve as a benchmark for African countries.

"This plant is Africa’s first major waste-to-energy plant and could serve as a benchmark for the region and the continent waste management which requires revolutionary methods,’’ said Zemichael.

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