Solid Waste Management 2017

Through our work in Tanzania and Ethiopia, we gained a lot of ideas for the decade ahead in SWM. Our favorite ideas include waste-to-energy facilities, privatizing collections, waste-to-feed and plastic-to-pavement.

Part C: Ideas

Waste-to-Energy (WTE)

Usually, waste-to-energy plants are considered unviable in developing countries because trash has lower calorific value and source separation is difficult in these regions. However, Cambridge Industries has developed a facility in Addis Ababa that circumvents these issues. The Reppie plant is three times bigger than the average waste-to-energy plant: to incinerate more trash, compensating for lesser CV. Sweden’s Filborna Plant only needs 460 tons/day of waste to generate 18MW of electricity as Sweden has a strong recycling culture[1] in contrast to 1,400 tons/day at Reppie.

Reppie has a settling station that decreases the moisture from trash by about 30% and has a more cost-efficient technology that helps minimize operating costs. By selling the by-products such as residual ash, residual steam (for concrete setting) and recycled wastewater squeezed out of trash, Reppie is expected to generate secondary revenue that will pay for its operating costs.

Usually, waste-to-energy plants are viewed more as garbage reduction solutions than viable energy sources. It costs only 9cents/kWhr for power generation in Ethiopia, and the government subsidizes power to retail at 6 cents/kWhr. It costs 16 cents/kWhr for energy from waste, and the government is willing to subsidize 10 cents/kWhr through a tipping fee.

Cambridge Industries is the EPC contractor along with China National Electric Engineering Corporation (the project came with financing from China). The projected equity IRR is 20-25%. With guarantees from the Ministry of Finance and the African Development Bank, the hurdle rate could be as low as 7% – making this a very viable investment opportunity.


Tonnage 1,400-1,500 tons/day
Capacity or Capacity per annum 20 MW or 185 GWhr
Cost of building $120 million USD
Revenue per annum from power $20 million USD
Revenue per annum from by-product sales $4 million USD
Operating costs per annum $5 million USD


  1. The estimated power generation is 362 KWhr per ton, which is more than 250Kwhr per ton projected in the Sound Bot case. This optimism is surprising given the absence of source segregation.
  1. For the Ethiopian government to offer a subsidy of 10 cents/kWhr, the tipping fee comes to $36 per ton of waste at 362 KWhr per ton. They already pay 720 ETB ($32) for each 8 meter cube dumpster that is collected, and assuming each dumpster holds 4 tons of weight, the cost per ton totals to $42. With the US, on average, spending $50 on tipping fees[2], this seems like an expensive proposition for a developing country.
  1. For plants operating with trash of low calorific value of 9MJ/Kg operating for 7,500 hours annually, a World Bank report[3] pegs the operating cost at $32 million per annum. At 6MJ/Kg of calorific value, operational costs increase by 30%. The Reppie facility is expected to operate at a very competitive $5M in annual operating costs given that its CV range is 5.5-9MJ/kg. Costs would increase exponentially during the rainy season if trash collection isn’t vertically integrated. Also, Cambridge Industries provided the cost of power at 16 cents/kWhr, translating to an operating cost of $30Mn per annum.

With power costing only 9 cents/kWhr at Ethiopia, it is mainly for political reasons that the government is willing support an expensive WTE solution over of landfills. Landfills outside Addis are unfeasible as the people there are in opposition. Also, Cambridge Industries is looking to buy the plant back from the Ethiopian government, and this shows confidence in their ability to earn a return, circumventing the above-mentioned concerns.

Privatizing Collection

We like the idea of privatizing collection in Addis Ababa because we believe it would consolidate, standardize and optimize the current solid waste management system in the city.

In Addis Ababa, the government has already taken a keen interest in solid waste management and has established a viable business model for waste management. The government plays a large role in every step of the process and the sector has benefited from this. However, we believe there are huge opportunities for improvement, especially involving the private sector. The positive role of the government notwithstanding, we believe that introducing a private player, specifically in collections, would significantly improve solid waste management in Addis Ababa.

Currently, collection is managed by the government – the government employs 600 small enterprises, or 6,000 operators to collect waste from households in Addis Ababa. These enterprises collect approximately 70% of the solid waste generated in the city. Thus, given this structure, the government is challenged with coordinating collection across a fragmented network of 600 different enterprises – resulting in uncontrolled and unreliable services. Residents have expressed that collection is not reliable – collectors do not come at specified times or days and are not held to any specific standards. Once the waste is collected, these operators face another challenge of transporting the waste to the transfer site. Many of these operators lack the means to transport the waste in an effective or efficient manner and thus are forced to employ very manual means to transport the waste collected from homes (some literally on their backs).

Given the status quo, we believe that introducing a private player to collections would provide significant improvements to the current waste management process in Addis Ababa. First, privatizing collections would simplify the collections process for the government. Instead of managing communication across a complex network of 6,000 operators, with a private player, the government would only need to communicate with one point of contact. In the new proposed structure, the private entity would sit in between the government and the operators, managing communication with the government while standardizing and optimizing the existing network of operators. Under the current system, the operators loosely answer to the government, but with no enforcement from the government, these operators are not held to any standards to improve their services. The role of the private company would be to set standards for collections, thereby addressing concerns from residents of unreliable services. Further, a private partner could provide trucks to help these operators transport the solid waste to the transfer location. This would benefit the operators by providing a more reliable means to transport the waste they’ve collected – ensuring better and more accurate means to collect payment for their services.

Importantly, by introducing these improvements to the collections process through a private partner, the government in Addis Ababa would gain the capacity to focus its resources on more pressing matters in the solid waste management sector.


The team was also interested in more innovative solutions that addressed gaps in SWM at the source of waste generation. Two examples of this include the recycling of organic waste into animal feed and the conversion of non-recyclable plastics into pavement. These solutions are particularly salient as they represent relatively lower-cost, low capital-intensity solutions with a potential for high impact. In particular, we believe that these solutions could create the highest impact in a city such as Dar es Salaam due to the context around solid waste management and the political and economic barriers to other solutions.

The first solution we looked at was the conversion of organic waste into animal feed. This process involves using compost bins and solider fly larvae to process organic food waste into larvae maggots that can be used as animal feed, to replace more expensive (and environmentally unfriendly) forms of feed such as soy and fish-meal. The waste-to-feed composting process has been tried and tested for years and is even already being used in Dar es Salaam through The Recycler, a small company offering recycling services to corporates. However, the scale at which it’s being done is quite small. We believe that if this process can be scaled to the residential level, it can reduce waste production significantly. Organic waste represents 60-70% of total waste in Dar. Further, the cost of these bins is very small and households, particularly in the unplanned settlements, may be compelled to use them consistently as they can sell the output animal feed. Initial funding for the purchase of bins and materials (e.g. larvae) and training within communities would be required. As such, we believe NGO support would be needed to help implement such a project in Dar es Salaam.


Another solution we were excited about is Plastic-to-Pavement. The technology of utilizing plastic bags, wrappers and other plastic materials into pavement was developed in Madurai, India, where, like Dar, the streets and water systems were littered with plastic trash. Since 2004, this process has already paved 5,000 kilometers of road in India. The process involves shredding, melting, and processing these materials, to replace 15% of bitumen, an expensive product found in most pavements. Another key advantage is that the process is relatively low-cost. It also creates employment for those collecting the trash and completing the processing. Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, for example, have implemented successful projects that create plastic-based pavement bricks from plastic bags with minimal government involvement. Such a project, led by an entrepreneur or NGO, could vastly improve the cleanliness of Dar es Salaam (and Addis Ababa) and alleviate the environmental degradation caused by huge plastic consumption and improper disposal.

Again, we focused on these solutions in the context of Dar es Salaam due to the dire state of waste management and challenges to more costly solutions that may involve more government support. Dar es Salaam is a large and growing city that produces 4.3K tons of solid waste per annum. With a population growth rate of 4-5%, waste generation is expected to nearly double in the next 10 years. The state of waste management in Dar is even further behind than that of Addis Ababa. The waste collection rate in the city stands at 40-50% and is mostly confined to the “planned” neighborhoods, where only 30% of the population resides. There is one dumpsite, at Pugu, which is very difficult for collectors to access due to traffic and weak infrastructure. The political and social context of Dar es Salaam also explains why potential solid waste management solutions, such as improving the efficiency of collections or building waste-to-energy infrastructure, face enormous hurdles. Firstly, in contrast with Addis, minimal government priority is placed on waste management. The Pugu landfill is expected to last another 3-5 years and the trash problem in the streets and rivers has been addressed with periodic cleanups rather than comprehensive solutions. Additionally, conflicts of interest in the operation of waste management are reportedly rampant with political figures owning ineffective private collections companies. As such, these low-cost solutions, which require minimal government intervention, represent attractive options.

 Part D: Ideas for Realization

To realize these ideas, private investors and operators, in tandem with local governments, must take actions to collaboratively drive innovation and change. In Addis Ababa there is room to build on the existing infrastructure and social and political will established by the government. Organizing a coalition of both private investors and operators who have interests spread across the entire SWM value chain will ensure band-aid solutions are replaced with comprehensive end-to-end solutions. Furthermore, these collaborative efforts will ultimately reinforce one another as the quality of service to households translates to more effective collections and more efficient disposal at properly managed landfills. To achieve this end, it will be important for all players to challenge conventional assumptions (or lack thereof) of SWM, simultaneously assess the current/desired future state of the SWM system from multiple angles, agree upon a unifying measure of performance, and strategically align incentives. As we’ve seen, siloed efforts will only lead to efficiencies at one end of the value chain at the expense of efficiencies at another end.

In Dar es Salaam, garnering political support to prioritize the development of SWM infrastructure is the greatest challenge. Here the opportunity for private investors and operators is to leverage the institutional void, lack of accountability and pressing nature of the issue to develop a quality of service that meets the social, political and economic context of the city. Operators would be wise to conduct customer interviews, market tests and economic analysis etc. to gauge demand and the critical service features customers are most interested in. It will also be important to distribute the data collected to government officials to begin a much broader conversation about developing infrastructure once the market demand is established. Initially, any private investor or operator efforts may require cross subsidization of SWM in low-income areas with fees collected in higher income communities to help ensure the viability of these ideas. This presents an opportunity for government officials to learn the economics behind these solutions and clearly see how critical their support will be to the success of any broader SWM system.

[1] Haugen, Dan. “Is Burning Garbage Green? In Sweden, There’s Little Debate.” Midwest Energy News. N.p., 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 Feb. 2017

[2] Green Power Inc Waste to Fuel Became Reality – Landfill Tipping Fees in USA 2013. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

[3] Municipal Solid Waste Incineration. Washington DC: World Bank, 1999. Web. 1 Feb. 2017.


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