The Reppi Project is Africa’s first waste-to-energy facility (WtE). It was built in Ethiopia in 2018. It is currently the only facility of this type in Africa, but more are being planned. Could WtE facilities be the future for Africa?

What is a waste-to-energy facility?

A WtE facility is a power plant that produces useful energy from waste by burning it. Rubbish is first collected and sorted. Only rubbish that is non-recyclable and non-hazardous is burnt. When the rubbish is burnt, it produces heat that is used to boil water. Steam from the boiling water then turns a turbine that drives an electricity generator. This produces electricity that is used to power houses and businesses.

What are the benefits?

WtEs provide a way to get rid of rubbish, which prevents it going into landfill. This is beneficial because landfill sites can be dangerous. A landslide at a landfill site in Ethiopia in 2018 killed 114 people. Landfill sites also take up a lot of space. With a growing population, it is expected that waste production in Sub-Saharan Africa will triple by 2050. Without an alternative way to get rid of our rubbish, countries may run out of space to build landfill sites.

WtEs also decrease pollution. Burning rubbish releases less carbon dioxide and methane (both are greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere than landfill. This is beneficial as it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. Leaks of chemicals from landfill sites into groundwater are also prevented. This keeps water clean for people to use.

Waste is a renewable energy source. Renewable energy sources are resources used to generate energy that will not run out. As waste is constantly produced by humans, this means it is unlikely to run out in the future. WtE power generation is also more reliable than other forms of renewable energy generation such as solar power.

A further benefit is that some of the by-products of burning waste can be made into other things. For example ash can be used to make road construction materials. This means WtEs can provide some income for the country.

What are the downsides?

One issue with WtEs is that they require lots of money to build. This means some countries may struggle to afford to build one. For a WtE to work properly, it also needs a regular supply of rubbish. In countries that do not have an existing household waste collection system, this may be difficult to achieve.

Another downside is that burning waste releases gases that can be harmful to human health. However, modern technologies can remove most of these gases from the smoke before they are released into the atmosphere. 

Waste production is growing worldwide every year. Some people argue that money spent on WtEs would be better spent on projects to decrease our waste production in the first place. This could be through making more packaging recyclable or reducing disposable packaging.

What do you think?