Waste & Recycling Middle East has just expanded its reach to cover the fast emerging market of Africa. Leading industry experts from various regions of the world’s second largest continent talked with Waste & Recycling Middle East & Africa about the state of the waste and recycling industry, key concerns and the strength of this sector, developments in recycling as well as the opportunities this industry presents to various entities involved in the business. Swaliha Shanavas writes.

It is common knowledge that the amount of waste being generated worldwide has been increasing at a tremendous pace, with the two major contributing factors being population growth and urbanisation. The amount of municipal solid waste generated in Africa in 2012 was 125 million tonnes, and according to United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) ‘Africa Waste Management Outlook’ report (October 2018) this figure is expected to increase with the quantity of waste projected to touch 250 million tonnes by 2025.

There are several different scenarios in waste management across Africa, but in general the collection and treatment rates remain low. Further, many parts are affected due to unscientific waste management practices. The UNEP report indicates that 90 percent of the waste generated is disposed of in an uncontrolled manner, with a recycling rate of only 4 percent.

Dean Thompson
CEO, EnviroServ Waste

“Waste management in Africa varies significantly from country to country. Broadly speaking there are very few engineered landfills for domestic waste outside of South Africa, although there are plans for future development of the same,” says Dean Thompson, CEO, EnviroServ Waste Management. There are a limited number of facilities that can process hazardous waste, however, there are numerous incinerators particularly in East Africa, he adds.

Again, recycling is largely carried out by informal waste pickers in Africa, with recycling companies purchasing the recyclables from these individuals, Thompson notes. “At present, waste separation at source is non-existent and waste is separated at the disposal site. There have been projects to formalise waste sorting and recycling with very few ongoing successes.”

South Africa in particular has a highly regulated waste industry, governed by legislation that promotes the use of the waste hierarchy. “As South Africa’s leading waste management company, EnviroServ makes use of the waste hierarchy when developing solutions for our customers to ensure we offer compliant and best practice solutions in managing their waste streams,” the CEO underscores. This goes beyond the traditional recycling of paper, plastic, etc, with focus on providing creative solutions for hazardous waste and various other waste streams.

According to the International Council of Forest and Paper Association’s (ICFPA) 2019 Sustainability Progress Report, South Africa is ahead of international averages. “Our country’s paper recovery rate is well above the global average of 59.3 percent and currently sits at 70 percent, according to RecyclePaperZA. Over the past 10 years, more than 11.3 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging have been recovered for recycling locally. If baled, this amount would cover the surface of 2055 soccer fields, one metre deep,” says John Hunt, Managing Director of Mpact Recycling.

In 2018, the company collected over 630,000 tonnes of recyclables including paper, plastic, glass and cans. “Considering that every tonne of recovered paper saves 3m3 of landfill space, diverting 630,000 tonnes of recyclables from landfills is a huge step in the right direction,” he notes.

Algeria is the largest country in Africa covering 2,381,741 square kilometers. According to the latest data from the Algerian National Statistics’ Office, the population of this North African country is more than 43 million, 65 percent of which lives in the northern strip that represents 4 percent of the country’s area. “The total amount of waste generated on an average per annum is 23 million tons, of which, 13 million is household waste,” says Karim Ouamane, General Manager, National Waste Agency, Ministry of Environment & Renewable Energies, Algeria. “The cornerstone of the national policy relies on a strategy that aims to phase out wild dumping, set up sanitary landfills, promote sorting and recycling activities and enhance awareness and communication.”

Karim Ouamane
General Manager, National Waste Agency Ministry of Environment & Renewable Energies, Algeria

In order to implement this strategy, the Government adopted, in 2002, two operational programmes, National Household Waste Management Programme and National Hazardous Waste Management Plan. At present, Algeria counts 180 sanitary landfilling plants. These infrastructure facilities deal with almost 60 percent of household waste generated annually, says Ouamane.


The situation varies extensively across Africa on the legislation front. Different studies and reports indicate the lack of effective legislation, funding and services for proper solid waste management in many parts of the continent. In South Africa, overall industry plans have been submitted by industry bodies (i.e. members of PAMSA and PETCO). In September 2018, each packaging waste stream had to submit an Industry Waste Management Plan (IndWMP) to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, says John Hunt. “This plan indicated how the paper and packaging industry will deal with its extended producer responsibility, decrease packaging in the environment, create employment and bring about transformation, amongst other aspects. It is currently being evaluated by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).”

Johann Conradie
Chairman, South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO

Johann Conradie, Chairman, South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO), says legislation places more emphasis on waste avoidance, minimisation, reuse and recycling, and the Government has published various reports on the “waste economy and the value of waste”. Relevant legislation includes the Waste Act and related local and municipal bylaws; various South African Bureau of Standards (SABS); ISO standards (like ISO 18604:2013) and so on.

There is a pressing need for institutional, legislative or legal restructuring to make available effective tools for proper waste management in Africa, says Dr. Hisham Sherif, CEO, ENTAG-ECARU Group.

Dr. Hisham Sherif

In his opinion, other key concerns related to MSW on the continent are the creation of enough capacity not only limited to monetary terms but also technological and infrastructural advancement; and lack of financing and technical support for assisting the waste management sector.

In 2001, the Algerian Government set up a new legal framework that aimed to implement the National Waste Strategy and its related programme and plan. The first framework law on the management, control and disposal of waste has been adopted by the parliament and adopted by its 33 implementing operational decrees, says Karim Ouamane. “To enable the Government to effectively implement integrated waste management programmes, it established the first unique institutional arrangement through the National Waste Agency (NWA), a public institution under the authority of the Ministry of Environment. It was created to provide support to local authorities in order to enhance their waste management, and to monitor and assess integrated waste management at the national level,” he explains.

Recognising the importance of waste management indicators as a primary tool to enhance integrated waste management at all levels, NWA set up the National Waste Information System. “This data centre interconnects all the waste actors and allows them to have access and use  of waste data instantly,” he says. They are currently initiating, conducting and contributing to research studies, and demonstration projects and programmes; and in charge of publishing and disseminating scientific information, including awareness and communication activities on behalf of the Environment Ministry.

Recently, Algeria initiated a new waste strategy which is methodologically based on circular economy approach, with the Environment Ministry mandating NWA to lead on that issue at national and local levels, Ouamane notes. Pursuant to Algerian regulation, each municipality has to establish and run its own local waste management plan that must be updated every ten years. NWA is mandated to support municipalities for this purpose. “Hence, circular economy is the cornerstone of the new national waste management strategy. The ministry expects the enhancement and amendment of the existing national waste regulation in accordance with this concept,” he emphasises.

Key concerns

There are numerous challenges that the experts identify in the industry. One of the main concerns most professionals highlight in the Africa market is regarding the funding and revenue model for ongoing projects. “Most African cities lack the revenues to fund waste management and at present revenue earned from recycling and other activities around waste do not make a meaningful contribution to the costs of waste management process. The average income of the citizens of many African cities is below the threshold to afford waste management,” says Dean Thompson.

The challenge is to ensure the solution is financially viable and legally compliant, which “unfortunately does lead to the least preferred option of disposal to landfill,” he adds. “South African landfill costs are comparatively cheap compared to other countries in the world and this makes certain alternative disposal costs unviable and delays the development of more alternative options for waste.” EnviroServ owns and operates “world class disposal facilities that are stringently monitored and audited” and the company is able to offer solutions for all streams across the spectrum of waste management, he comments. The private sector in South Africa, is “extremely proactive with managing waste correctly” and taking additional initiatives to ensure they are recycling as much of the waste as possible, the CEO adds.

One other issue he points out in South Africa is the households, where there is very little compliance on waste segregation at source. “Admittedly, there is inadequate infrastructure for this, but fortunately the majority of municipalities around the country are currently addressing this through various projects and initiatives.”

The increasing rate of waste generation and the lack of space to implement landfilling plans are the main problems facing Algerian waste plans and programmes, states Karim Ouamane. “This is why, we set up objectives till 2035 based on waste sorting, composting and waste-to-energy processing. For the first time, the private sector will be a key actor in this new era.”

Paul Bourdillon
CEO, Africa-Near East, Suez

Some of the pertinent issues that need to be addressed are non-treatment of waste; existence of dumpsites and their impact on environment; lack of infrastructure for waste treatment; lack of funding for setting up, operating and maintaining facilities; the need for structured projects for bankable and sustainable programmes; and the lack of regulatory framework in some countries, Paul Bourdillon, CEO Africa-Near East at Suez points out.

The cost of sustainable treatment systems is not insignificant, but the benefits are substantial. “Most African countries need additional non-governmental funding. Today, it is not enough to fund only construction of treatment facilities, it is important to guarantee the financing for operation and maintenance period, including alternative funding (Green grants),” he argues.

In his view, the investments should include the conception and building of infrastructures but also the operation and maintenance cost for at least 20 years, “in order to avoid correct landfills from becoming dumpsites in case of lack of means to operate them in a proper way (treating and recovering biogas and leachates for example).”

Case in point: Suez was awarded a contract for the rehabilitation of an ancient city dump in Meknes, Morocco and the construction and operation over a period of 20 years of a waste disposal and recovery centre that opened in September 2016. The facility includes a recycling centre with logistics platform and sorting shed, an organic waste recovery facility to produce compost from green waste and some types of organic waste, and a biogas collection and recovery facility, Bourdillon says.

The centre has also contributed to social transition as “the facility has helped the “informal” sorters, who previously worked at the heart of the unauthorised dump site where they put their health at risk. Now the 150 sorters have formed a cooperative to work as a team in entirely safe conditions,” he underlines also suggesting that the adoption of technology that has been tried and tested, such as biogas collection and purification using microturbines or efficient leachate treatment, will help emerging markets replace their landfill methods with waste recovery solutions.

From the recycling standpoint, key issues include infrastructure, contaminants in waste stream, nonrecyclables, sustainability of operations, low participation rates among others. Johann Conradie comments: “In South Africa, we have a weak waste management infrastructure and formal waste management for 65.9 percent of all households. Increasing amounts of biodegradable, compostable and some form of oxo-biodegradables enter the incoming recyclable waste stream.”

There is still a percentage of nonrecyclable plastics in product ranges and with rising energy, transport and labour costs, it is an ongoing struggle for recyclers to stay sustainable in their businesses, he underscores. “What’s more, the cost of incoming materials to the processor increases continuously. Many new entrants are not legally compliant which put an unnecessary financial burden on compliant recyclers.” And, there is a lack of will, incentive or education for citizens to recycle, he says.

One of the biggest hurdles is that post-consumer collections are driven by the private sector and informal collectors and “there is a role for municipalities to get involved,” John Hunt opines. “As a country, we are doing well not only on the paper front, but we’re doing exceptionally well on the plastic recycling front too.” Recycling rates for PET bottles have improved over the years, with South Africa currently recycling around 67 percent of PET bottles produced, up from 55 percent in 2016, he remarks.

However, there is always room for improvement. “As the leading recycler in South Africa, Mpact gives effect to a true circular economy” and through state-of-the-art investments in recycling and packaging technologies, the company converts post-consumer PET beverage bottles, liquid cartons and paper packaging into new products. They have invested R150 million in recycling collection infrastructure since 2014, the MD says, but “more infrastructure investments of this scale are required to ensure that the recycling economy remains strong and keeps growing.”

Trends and opportunities

Household waste constitutes 54 percent organic material, 17 percent plastics and 10 percent cardboard, etc. Furthermore, Algerian Government is facilitating the introduction of new technologies for waste management, says Karim Ouamane. “Both are important investment opportunities in particular for the private sector to do business in the field of waste management.”

Irrespective of the issues highlighted, the industry currently offers opportunities across South Africa, says the MD of Mpact Recycling. Recycling is a localised activity and “when driving through our country, one can almost immediately see which areas or towns run successful recycling initiatives, as those areas tend to be very clean and litter free, a result of the environmental benefits of the recycling economy,” he observes.

International companies are implementing worldwide their standards in terms of environmental footprint, including waste treatment, Paul Bourdillon notes, adding that this trend is an opportunity for solutions providers across Africa to improve their economic and environmental performance.

With the steady economic growth in some African countries, the average income of citizens is on the rise, says Dean Thompson. “Over the next 10-15 years there will be many cities that will be in a position to afford proper domestic waste management services.”