By Eloise Tobler of Wisetek
Most African countries, especially those in the Sub-Saharan region, rank amongst the most struggling economies in the world. This contrasts with the fact that the continent has an embarrassment of riches in terms of natural resources and a youthful population. While each country has its own complex list of problems and challenges, one of the strategies that could help alleviate some of these economic problems is the adoption of a renewable model of waste disposal.
What is a Green Economy?
A green economy refers to an economic environment that is designed to limit, and ideally, eradicate waste. Traditionally, economies were considered in linear terms. Raw materials are used as inputs to create products that the population uses, which later become waste at the end of their usefulness. In a circular economy, instead of introducing new inputs and discarding waste, the ‘waste’ is creatively repurposed for reuse. This creates a closed-loop system that prioritizes sustainability over the depletion of additional resources.
The Benefits of a Green Economy for Africa
The benefits a green economy offers the developing African economy are twofold. First, it reduces the amount of waste that is discarded – often to the detriment of the environment. Most waste is either discarded through landfills or open-air incineration. Landfills introduce toxins to the food chain by contaminating the soil and groundwater reserves. Open-air incineration on the other hand causes air pollution, usually resulting in respiratory health complications.
Secondly, a circular economy reduces the demand for raw materials as inputs.
This not only protects the environment from over-exploitation but also creates additional resources for a growing continent. Africa is a youthful and fast-growing continent. A circular economy ensures that there are enough resources to sustain this rapid population growth.
How Can Africa Transition to a Circular Economy?
Some of the steps that African economies can take to adopt the circular economic model include:
Thanks to modern technological advancements, new consumer electronic products are being pumped into the market on a daily basis. In the developed world, as products get new versions every few months, most of the outdated models are discarded to the developing world – with Africa being the number 1 destination for this electronic waste. The first step towards adopting a circular economy involves reducing this e-waste importation. The toxic components poison groundwater and affect the soil’s fertility.
Creativity in Repurposing Products
With creativity, most products can be repurposed and reused after they are no longer viable for their main function. African artists have shown a lot of creativity in using discarded items in their creative creations. Apart from art, products can be given a new lease of life through recycling, repair and refurbishing. Developing the technical and creative skills needed to accomplish this should be a priority for African countries looking to adopt a circular economy.
Rethinking the Manufacturing Process
African countries need to factor in sustainability in their manufacturing process, especially when it comes to product design. Raw materials that can be recycled need to be used more. Product design should consider how the manufactured item can be reused or recycled once it is no longer viable for its intended purpose.
The same standards need to be applied when importing products manufactured elsewhere. Some sort of incentive (such as reduced import duty) needs to be in place to encourage the importation of products that are designed for sustainability.
Developing Safe Waste Destruction Processes
Most, if not all, African countries already have a lot of unprocessed garbage – most of which cannot be recycled. Systems need to be in place to facilitate their disposal without further contaminating the environment. Strategies like creating waterproof linings on landfills to ensure that toxic waste does not seep into groundwater reserves need to be implemented.
Shifting to Renewable Sources of Energy
African energy needs are growing exponentially due to a combination of rapid modernization and an ever-growing population. Luckily, the continent is blessed with the capacity for renewable energy. With most countries being within close proximity to the equator, they experience almost year-round sunshine that can be harnessed for solar energy production. Rivers and waterfalls can generate hydropower while some countries have the volcanic activity to generate geothermal power.
Waste to Power Solutions
While this is not a renewable form of energy, using waste to generate power is a more sustainable practice than extracting fossil fuel. While it still does introduce pollutants to the environment through air pollution, it is more sustainable when compared to the use of extracted fossil fuels.
Adopting a circular economy can help solve the economic and environmental challenges facing most countries. Within a functioning circular economy, waste is reduced as most products are recycled or reused at the end of their initial life span. Adopting a circular economy requires African countries to cut down their importation of e-waste, being creative regarding recycling, introducing sustainability in their manufacturing processes and using renewable sources of energy.