Waste to Energy Incineration, an increasing threat to Zimbabwe

Opinion by Mikhail Aruberito | Centre for Alternative Development

Earlier this year an entrepreneur from Harare, Zimbabwe, won an award for a Waste-to-Energy (WtE) project that incinerates waste for energy production.  The WtE project is still at its initial stage, and there is little information available on the project in the public domain. Sadly, this is not the first proposal for a WtE project in Zimbabwe. This technology has been proposed on different platforms in the country and is seen as a positive development to the public, unaware of the ramifications. 

In 2019, the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) and Harare City Council engaged a Netherlands company, Integrated Energy B.V (IEBV), to construct a WtE plant in Pomona, worth more than 120-Million-Euros, on a build, operate, and transfer arrangement. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government through the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works, and National Housing. Fortunately, there has been no further developments made with this project to date. 

Furthermore, the Government of Zimbabwe published its revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) this year. Waste incineration was designated as a renewable energy project and one of the waste management mitigation measures, with plans to build waste energy projects in the country’s major cities. The designation of waste incineration as “renewable energy” subsidies an energy-inefficient practice and produces toxic pollution. The perverse designation of waste incineration as renewable is taking the attention and investment from real renewable energy projects like solar. The GoZ should be focusing on waste management projects such as recycling, composting and other zero waste strategies to create a cleaner and healthier environment. 

Ethiopia shows the viability of a WtE project in Zimbabwe. The facility in Addis Ababa has been operating intermittently and only meets a fraction of the intended energy generation due to the country’s high levels of organic waste. The lack of awareness about generating electricity from waste incineration requires civil society to interrogate the concept of waste incineration as a renewable and alternative form of energy production by focusing on the harmful toxicity of burning waste into the atmosphere and showing the better renewable energy alternative to waste incineration.

Centre for Alternative Development (CAD) has been tracking the recent WtE proposal from the entrepreneur from Harare. According to one authority in the Harare Municipal Council, the project is still at the consultative stage. This stage involves the Harare municipality and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to assess whether the project meets the stipulated requirements and obligations. Civil society must intervene by interrogating the sustainability and feasibility of the WtE project and mobilising the affected community where the project is planned for construction.

CAD is working on investigating the full scope of the project and location. Our goal is to stop the project from implementation. Burning waste to generate electricity in the Harare Metropolitan is neither clean nor renewable. Waste incineration is a risky investment with a higher operating cost, which is passed down to residents. The pollution produced by burning garbage subjects communities near waste incinerators to harmful greenhouse gases such as dioxin, lead, and mercury. Burning garbage to produce electricity is regarded to be more harmful than burning coal. 

It is our responsibility to awake the residents of Harare and the public to the undesirable outcome of the waste to energy project. In an effort to do this, the Centre for Alternative Development (CAD)  will be carrying out a waste audit in the city of Harare. The audit will aim to create a roadmap of the urgent needs and priorities, regarding waste in the country. During this activity, our organisation will promote the separation of waste at the source, and call for the elimination of unrecyclable waste.

Furthermore, CAD will also dedicate time to investigating active and shut down pyrolysis plants. Additionally, we will campaign for the integration and recognition of waste pickers at a municipal level. These awareness campaigns will show the extent of the waste problem in the country, and demonstrate how zero waste practices are a better solution than the technological quick fixes that are being promoted nationally. 


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