Waste management in practice in Ghana and Nigeria

Tobias Schleicher, scientist at the Oeko-Institut, was on the road in West Africa, where two of his waste management projects are on the home straight. In this blog post, Tobias Schleicher describes his impressions.

Part 1: Co-processing in Ghana

In the Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) project, which has been running since 2015, we have been advising the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for more than twelve months now on whether used tyres could be used as an alternative fuel for the cement industry, among other topics. On behalf of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), we are supporting the environmental authority in their assessment as to whether one of West Africa’s few cement plants could use alternative fuels such as pre-treated waste tyres as an energy source in addition to coal.

Such "co-processing" is an approach that entails the use of what would normally be considered a waste product, such as waste tyres, as a raw material and energy source which can partially replace fossil fuels such as coal in industrial processes, and in energy-intensive industries such as cement production in particular

Used tyres and cement

Why are there so few cement plants in Ghana? The reason is that there is hardly any limestone in the whole of West Africa. Limestone is a key raw material for cement production. What has long been common practice in many countries is still in its infancy in Ghana: Waste tyres could be used as an alternative fuel source; in shredded form they could save roughly 15 per cent of the coal normally used.

Putting them to use as a fuel source also means that they are not simply getting burned, a process that generates highly toxic emissions. If the tyres are fed into the extremely hot cement production process − at more than 1,200 degrees Celsius − these toxic emissions are avoided, provided the process runs smoothly and is subject to a continuous emissions monitoring system (EMS)

Proper co-processing

If done right, co-processing can be a good solution for certain types of waste. On site we work with our project partner, Ed Verhamme of the Netherlands-based Alternate Resource Partners (ARP). There we demonstrate that co-processing should only be undertaken in accordance with an international standard, as set out in the guidelines of the Basel/Rotterdam/Stockholm Conventions. At the same time, it is important to us that a very pressing waste problem in Ghana can be addressed in this manner. Following our assessment of the cement plant at the end of last year, we can now present our results

Operational adjustments for co-processing

If the factory made some key investments, co-processing could be realised in Ghana: An additional feed-in-point for the tyres in the hottest part of the kiln needs to be added and the continuous emission management system has to be updated. Only then should a trial burn be undertaken. The coal thus saved can pay back the investments over a period of about five years

Need for clarification by the Ghanaian legislature

Adjustments are needed not only on the operational side. Clarification is also needed from the legislature. For a long time, it was unclear whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would allow co-processing at all. The permitted emissions limits are also not yet clearly regulated for this locally novel process. Moreover, a decision has to be taken as to whether the applicable specifications would be those for waste incineration or fuel combustion.

It is for this reason that we met with all EPA departments involved to discuss the project results and, step-by-step, any potential caveats, for example regarding cement quality. Conversely, all project partners insisted on the above-mentioned highly important preconditions for responsible co-processing in accordance with the Basel-Rotterdam-Stockholm provisions. Things are cranking into motion now and we expect the decades-old problem of waste tyres to come closer to getting resolved

Part 2: E-waste collection and recycling in Nigeria

Next we went on to Nigeria, specifically to Lagos, a city with roughly as many inhabitants as the whole of Ghana. While we were able to move freely and safely at any time in Accra (Ghana), 500 kilometres down the road in Lagos, safety considerations demanded that we only travel in cars with tinted windows. While in Accra you can quickly get from A to B, in Lagos you can get stuck in traffic jams for hours, hardly moving at all. Six hours a day in a traffic jam tends to be more of a minimum

Feasibility studies for pilot project

What brought us to Nigeria was the conclusion of the two-year pilot project on "E-waste Compensation as an International Compensation Mechanism in Nigeria (ECoN)" on behalf of the German PREVENT Waste Alliance. For years now, our project partner Closing the Loop has been successfully collecting waste compensation money from manufacturers and users of IT equipment. The company uses this money to finance sustainable collection and recycling in countries where there is (still) no functioning waste disposal infrastructure.

For a long time, Closing the Loop only dealt with mobile phones. For this pilot project, the local partner “Verde Impacto” has now collected more than 20 tonnes of flat screens and 10 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries and passed them on to Hinckleys Recycling Ltd, who organise on-site pre-treatment for sustainable recycling. We at the Oeko-Institut prepared the associated feasibility studies on flat screens and lithium-ion batteries

Project as a blueprint for a public recycling system

But what good would all this do if no one in Nigeria knew about it? That’s why we worked with our strategic partner “SRADev Nigeria” from the outset. This NGO ensured that our project is embedded with the most important decision-makers in Nigeria.

From the beginning, we held meetings with ministries and environmental authorities in Abuja and Lagos. The Global Environment Fund (GEF) is already supporting the government's efforts to set up a national system for the collection and recycling of e-waste. And it is precisely for this system that we are now providing a blueprint

But: Responsible recycling comes with a price tag

We show that by deploying financial incentives for both collection and sustainable recycling itself, it is possible to properly collect and recycle flat panel displays and lithium-ion batteries. Financial incentives are needed as proper recycling is significantly more expensive than improper incineration of e-waste or its dumping in huge landfills. An example: Hinckleys Recycling Ltd. makes solar lamps from the plexiglas of old screens and reused lithium-ion batteries.

Plexiglas aus alten Bildschirmen, Quelle: Öko-Institut

Recycling, Quelle. Öko-Institut

Lampe aus recyceltem Kunsstoff, Quelle: Öko-Institut

End-of-project workshop with participants from all relevant authorities

At the project’s conclusion, Dr Leslie Adogame from SRADev Nigeria brought together more than 40 participants representing all relevant authorities, ministries, companies and NGOs in Lagos, where we presented and discussed our results. Now the ball is back in the local authorities’ court whose task it is to mainstream the pilot project.

Teilenehmende des Workshops, Öko-Institut  

Tobias Schleicher is a senior researcher in the Sustainable Products & Material Flows Division at the Oeko-Institut’s Freiburg office. His work focuses on resource and waste management in the context of international cooperation and development policy strategies.

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