Unleashing the energy in waste

Ghana’s private sector is leading a number of green initiatives to harness clean and modern technologies to enhance sustainable development.

Waste-to-compost and fecal sludge-to-biodiesel plants, as well as plastic waste recycling schemes, are helping to eliminate the indiscriminate dumping of waste into the environment.

These social enterprise projects are creating a sanitation revolution, contributing to global warming mitigation through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and adding value to waste materials.

With rising urbanisation, waste collection and disposal constitutes one of the major environmental challenges to city authorities in the country.

Thousands of tonnes of waste are generated daily, most of which is dumped at disposal sites, but with some ending up in drains to cause environmental havoc such as flooding.

Mismanagement of waste not only comes at huge financial cost to the country, but poses serious environmental and health risks. In response, Waste Enterprisers, a sanitation and waste energy company, has developed innovative ways of reusing waste with the aim of improving sanitation services for the poor.

“Our founding philosophy is that there is energy in waste and that waste should be treated like a resource and not thrown away, so we’re piloting several different businesses in order to take waste and recycle it into a usable product, states Timothy Wade, Chief Operations Officer of Waste Enterprisers.

Fecal sludge to biodiesel

One project involves the construction of a fecal sludge-to-biodiesel plant at the Dompoase landfill site, situated on the outskirts of Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city.

According to Wade, the plant can eliminate dumping of fecal sludge into the environment while simultaneously offsetting fossil fuel consumption. The project intends to use financial incentives to ensure the timely and proper servicing of septic tanks and latrines, particularly in settlements where waste management is currently very poor.

“Fecal sludge management is a major problem here in Ghana and all across the continent,” he observes. “We believe that if we can harness the energy value and create something as important to industry and transportation as cleaner diesel fuel, we can prevent deaths from poor sanitation, clean up the environment and also protect the skies and the air by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

A full-scale commercial plant is expected to be up and running by mid-2013, with the capacity to treat the equivalent of 100 truckloads of waste every day.

Currently around 40 truckloads of fecal sludge are taken to the site each day, but it is expected this figure will rise – and unsanitary disposal practices fall – when the plant is established and sludge gains value.

“Our biodiesel plant will be very influential in moving Ghana towards a greener economy,” says Wade. “If we can reduce CO2 emissions by replacing petrol and diesel, we will have a significant impact on climate change.

Solid waste to compost

A recent World Bank report has projected that the annual cost of solid waste management globally will rise from the current US$205 billion to US$375 billion by 2025, with much of the increase from growing cities in developing countries.

Foremost waste management firm, Zoomlion Ghana, has invested in a sorting and composting facility at the Dompoase site with a capacity to process 300 tonnes per day of industrial and domestic solid waste, collected by the company.

The development of the facility in Kumasi follows a pilot plant which has been treating municipal waste in the Greater Accra region for the past three years.

Converting organic waste to compost, rather than allowing it to rot, greatly reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, explained Rachel Ofori Asantewa, an operations officer at the recycling and composting unit.

“In as much as we reduce the amount of waste that is taken into our landfills, we are also able to generate compost that will enhance the soil,” she adds.

The Dompoase waste-to-compost plant is Ghana’s first registered Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Registration under the CDM was funded by the Standard Bank Group and carried out by Ecosur Afrique.

Full production is expected to be achieved within a year, with the plant expected to compensate for more than 68,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum. These will be available as carbon credits, while Zoomlion intends to partner with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to support farmers in accessing the compost.

Products from plastic waste

Complimenting the activities of Zoomlion is another innovative social enterprise, which sets out to rescue some of the millions of plastic trash and other materials from Ghana’s waste stream.

The Recycle Not A Waste Initiative (RECNOWA) trains and employs street youth from disadvantaged communities in Accra and Kumasi to clear their streets of waste and apply creative talents to transform it into handmade designer products.

Processed products from the waste materials include bags, wallets, jewellery, footwear, furniture and home décor, all ethically produced and eco-friendly, employing around 25 young people.

“Apart from helping the city waste management services, we’ve also been able to create employment opportunities and help people who might not have anything, just by taking the trash and making some money,” says Kwaku Yamoah Kyei, Co-founder and Global Strategist of the Initiative.

Commenting on these initiatives, Integrated Waste Management expert, Dr. Moses Mensah points to the need for a paradigm shift, for waste to be seen more as a resource than garbage to be discarded.

The green initiatives, in his opinion, could unleash Ghana’s wealth stored in garbage, especially in registering projects to benefit from the global carbon market.

“This article is one of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network”.