Waste sector South Africa – Opportunities to turn waste into energy

Waste Sector South Africa

The waste sector in South Africa makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy, providing tens of thousands of formal and informal jobs and livelihoods. Potentials for growth exist particularly in transforming waste into energy.

Converting waste to energy can help solve some of the country’s biggest problems being landfill space shortages and climate change. The problems that occur in the waste sector can not only be solved but can actively provide solutions for the energy sector. For this reason, waste plays a big role in the country's plans to move towards becoming a green economy.

How the waste sector can provide solutions for the energy sector

A new research study conducted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) shows that waste streams, in combination with new developments in waste-to-energy technology can be used to support decarbonising the economy.

The study also reveals different ways to do so by describing 20 alternative waste treatment technologies that have potential for micro- to large-scale application. These technologies can be introduced into the existing waste management infrastructure already.

While barriers still exist in adopting these technologies locally, relevant technologies identified can effectively transform waste into biogas and energy. The process of transforming waste into energy, if applied intelligently, can help reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change. This is where opportunities exist for foreign companies operating in the waste sector to expand into the African market.

The study resulted in the conclusion of a “waste to energy roadmap” for South Africa, which has been in the pipeline for the past 2 years. In an enabling environment, this roadmap can be implemented on a large scale in South Africa and have a big impact on the transformation of the economy.

What players within the waste sector are saying

The research team that conducted the study consulted with various stakeholders of the waste-to-energy sector. This resulted in a virtual workshop which was attended by almost 50 representatives of political and financial institutions – both local and international.

Attendees of the workshop were, among others, representatives from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the CSIR, the South African Local Government Association, and the World Bank, as well as interested government agencies and other institutions.

The consultations, which spanned over a few months, aimed to examine opportunities within the Waste-to-Energy sector and barriers to implementing policies and projects. A large portion of the workshop was spent on discussing specific waste-to-energy technologies and projects.

Participants agreed that waste-to-energy stakeholders can be very successful when they collaborate across sectors, departments, and disciplines. In fact, some delegates warned that policies and projects may fail if this type of collaboration in planning and implementation is not actively pursued.

The waste-to-energy Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap is still in the development phase and its implementation will take time.

Opportunities for foreign companies

Foreign companies may participate in the South African waste sector by providing and investing in technologies and innovations regarding waste to energy conversion. In this regard, it is advised that foreign companies partner up with local stakeholders to ensure the development of relevant technologies that are needed in specific subsectors. This greatly increases foreign companies’ chances of success in the sector.

The South African waste sector provides great opportunity for innovation. Current examples of innovation in the South African waste sector include:

  • A project to reuse sawdust - producing a range of valuable, marketable chemicals, including those used to make the artificial sweetener xylitol. Other by-products include pine oil and cellulose fibre.
  • Chicken feather waste - used to make products such as keratin powder for use as protein and other healthcare applications. Feather waste can also be used to make textiles, electronics, and cosmetics.
  • Sludge from paper mills and fibres from used tires – used to improve the quality of green concrete. Paper sludge to be burned or landfilled can also be used to manufacture concrete.

Want to know more about opportunities in the South African waste sector and ways to enter the market? Request a consultation under sales@enter-africa.com. We look forward to hearing from you!