Turning Waste into Energy: A Roadmap for South Africa

The waste sector contributes significantly to the South African economy. It provides tens of thousands of formal and informal jobs and livelihoods. The potential for growth is real. And it can help alleviate some of the biggest headaches of our time – landfill creep and climate change.  

Can a comprehensive waste-to-energy plan be rolled out at scale in South Africa? 

The short answer is yes. Provided it is done smartly within an optimal environment.  

The Waste to Energy Roadmap for South Africa identifies 20 alternative waste treatment technologies – with potential for micro- to large-scale application – that are ready to be introduced into existing waste management infrastructure. It showcases relevant technologies for the effective valorisation and recovery of waste into biogas and energy, while mapping barriers and drivers for uptake at local level.  

New ways of thinking about what gets thrown away 

“Changing the way we think about waste opens up many opportunities for innovation”. For example, the redirection of organics, abattoir waste, agricultural waste and sewage sludge could use anaerobic digestion to generate gas that can be used for cooking or for generating electricity.  

Gasses that are emitted from landfill sites can be recovered, collected and treated to be converted to energy. 

A landfill site showing contamination of waste streams. Each of the waste strategies identified in the Waste to Energy Roadmap can make a contribution to reducing waste to landfill and greenhouse gasses.

These are just some of the possibilities that exist for diverting waste from reaching the landfill, however these solutions face various barriers and challenges in South Africa, highlighting the need for a roadmap to guide the waste to energy transition within the country. 

The project 

The Roadmap, available early in 2022, is the product of a partnership between the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chair in Waste and Climate Change at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). 

The partnership sprung from a 2019 memorandum of agreement (MoA) between UKZN and SANEDI to undertake research on waste and resources management, and clean energy. 

The Roadmap will deliver:  

  1. Up-to-the-minute reporting on WtoE technologies in South Africa and the member countries of Task 36 of the IEA Bioenergy. 
  2. Policy review on WtoE technologies in South Africa   
  3. Map of technologies, waste streams and by-products  
  4. Assessment of the technologies in terms of economic feasibility, environmental sustainability, social acceptance, job creation potential, and institutional frameworks for implementation  
  5. Localisation mapping of the technologies in South African municipalities and specific successful case studies and lessons learned  
  6. Stakeholder engagement report  
  7. Preliminary implementation guidance for future implementation