Evaluation of energy potential of Municipal Solid Waste from African urban areas

There is a growing understanding, at the global level, about the negative impacts that waste can have on the local environment (air, water, land) and human health etc. The increasing complexity, costs, and coordination implied by proper waste management require multi-stakeholder involvement at every stage of the process. Waste management is usually one of the most complex and cost-intensive public services, even when well organized and operated properly. In developing countries, waste management has the highest share in municipalities׳ budgets, spending from 20% to 50% of their available budget on solid waste management. A significant part (up to 80–90%) of the solid waste management budget is used for waste collection. Services typically cover, however, only about 40–70% of all urban solid wastes, with the remainder being uncollected and less than 50% of the population being served.

Population growth, urbanization, and economic development are expected to produce increasing quantities of waste that are overburdening existing waste-management systems. Many cities in Africa face significant difficulties related to waste management, collection, and disposal of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Increasing city size poses great problems linked to increasing population and city area as well as the lack of infrastructure development.

The poor waste management in Africa has important consequences for the disposal of uncollected waste in dumps and the associated severe environmental and health related problems. An integrated approach to solid waste management is required in order to enable local/ national authorities to reduce the overall amount of waste generated and to recover valuable materials for recycling and for the generation of energy.

Despite all efforts to reduce, recycle and reuse waste, there is a growing amount of waste that needs to be disposed of in landfills. Several options are available and the choice of the most adequate should consider the local specific conditions. Waste incineration might be an option for waste disposal, but technical and economic problems are preventing large scale deployment of waste to energy plants, especially in developing countries. Landfill gas (LFG) recovery could be a solution, an opportunity for energy recovery and a potential source of energy in areas with low access to energy, such as Africa.

This paper addresses the issue of waste management in Africa and investigates the potential of energy production from waste, contributing to energy supplies and alleviating energy poverty. It focusses on the assessment of the potential of MSW to produce energy. Several studies relate to the use of MSW for energy production and provide estimates of the energy potential of MSW. However, the data about the waste generation, collection and the use of waste for energy production for the African continent is very scarce and covers only a few cities or countries.

The study makes GIS spatial explicit analysis of the energy potential MSW in Africa using the best available data related to MSW from the United Nations, World Bank, Food, and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This study provides a complete overview and wider perspective of this potential for the whole African continent while providing detailed information at country and city level.