World Population Day: The importance of the waste-to-energy relationship


World Population Day, established in 1989 by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme — UNDP, is observed on 11 July every year. The global population is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050, a significant number of people utilising the Earth’s resources. This day is dedicated to considering the potential challenges associated with the strain of overpopulation.

Two critical aspects of the growing population include firstly, the amount of waste being generated and the associated impact on much-needed biodiversity, and secondly the fact that all these people will require access to resources such as energy.

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By highlighting these two specific aspects, we note the vital importance of developing the waste-to-energy market thereby addressing these two urgent concerns.

Startling stats:

  • Currently, the population is growing by 1.10 per cent per year, yielding an additional 83 million people annually
  • 2.5 billion will be living on the African continent
  • By 2050 the world’s cities will generate 3.4 billion tonnes of solid waste per annum
  • By 2050, 68% of the world’s population of more than nine billion will live in urban areas
  • According to the United Nations, at least 13% of the world’s population still do not have access to modern electricity

However, in better news, the Waste Management Market size is expected to grow from an estimated $423.4 billion in 2021 to $542.7 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 5.1%, during the forecast period. This is according to the newly released report from MarketsandMarkets, Waste Management Market by Waste, Service, End User and Region – Global Forecast to 2026.

One of the key drivers for the waste management market is the increasingly stringent regulations of governments worldwide for better management of waste and to ensure environmental protection. Managing waste is vital to protect biodiversity and reduce emissions, and clearly needs to be a priority of governments around the world.

Kate Stubbs, Business Development and Marketing Director at Interwaste, points to the fact that South Africa alone generates 122 million tonnes of waste per annum. “This is about R25.2 billion worth of waste being generated, and approximately 90% of this goes directly to landfill. Thus only 10% of this waste is being recycled – and these are resources which could have been fed back into the economy by means of recycling, repurposing, and reusing,” she says.

“We have to place more focus on changing the ‘throw away culture’ that many businesses, individuals, and households have, if we want to support a healthier planet, and preserve and restore biodiversity around the globe.”

In order to protect the planet’s biodiversity as the population grows while satisfying peoples need for electricity, making an impact

In the spirit of celebrating the role of waste in generating energy, we pay homage to waste-to-energy plants making an impact by using trash as a fuel for power generation.

Image credit: SHL Architects

Shenzhen East: Referred to as the world’s largest waste-to-energy plant, this megacity is based in Shenzhen, southern China. The plant processes up to 5,000 tonnes of waste each day, will combust roughly a third of the city’s daily domestic waste and also generate some renewable energy via 40,000 square metres of solar panels on its roof.
China has the largest installed waste-to-energy capacity of any country, with more than 300 plants in operation.

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Reppi: Based in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, and hailed as Africa’s first waste-to-energy plant, the plant burns the city’s rubbish at a temperature of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius and converts it into 185 million KW of electricity. The Reppie WtE facility started full construction in September of 2014. It processes over 1,400tons of waste every day which feeds power to the Ethiopian national grid.

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Nashik: This WtE plant is situated in the province of Maharashtra, India. The 6000 sq.m plant has a 30 tonne/day capacity, started operating in December, 2017 and generates 2,500m3 biogas and 3300 kWh per day.

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India, the country’s total estimated energy generation potential from urban and industrial organic waste in India is approximately 5690MW, and the government plans to implement policies to exploit this potential as much as possible, by promoting technology and projects that recover the energy from Biogas/BioCNG from agricultural, industrial and urban waste.

In order to ensure a sustainable future for the world’s growing population, the relationship between waste and electricity must be exploited. It’s the epitome of a circular economy and needs to be urgently prioritised to satisfy the ever-growing demands of our ever-growing population.