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Circular Economy Innovations and Poverty in Ethiopia

Poverty in EthiopiaEthiopia is a country with a cultural heritage and natural wealth. Yet, it faces high rates of poverty and environmental challenges. Even in this adversarial backdrop, innovative approaches toward a circular economy are emerging as one of the transformative solutions. These efforts shed light on how zero-waste initiatives, resource recovery programs and upcycling enterprises are not only mitigating environmental degradation but also creating economic opportunities and combating poverty in Ethiopia.

Poverty in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is among many African countries that face pervasive poverty. According to estimates by the World Bank, more than 20% of Ethiopia’s population lives below the poverty line and has little access to clean water, education and health facilities. Furthermore, rapid population growth and climatic changes raise the difficulty of the already existing challenges, making sustainable development a matter of high priority.

The principles of circular economies stress the use of resources in ways that are more regenerative, wasting little and reaping full value. It is within this argument that the circular economy opens a promising pathway for poverty alleviation in Ethiopia by inspiring economic growth while at the same time protecting the environment.

Zero-Waste Initiatives

Zero-waste initiatives aim to eliminate waste through redesigning production, reusing and promoting responsible consumption. In Ethiopia, organizations like the Zero Waste Ethiopia project pioneered such waste management strategies, with the core of reuse and recycling. By diverting waste away from landfills and incinerators, these initiatives effectively reduce environmental pollution while creating employment opportunities in the waste collection and recycling sectors.

An example of this progress is the Addis Ababa Waste-to-Energy Facility, which commenced operations in 2018. This facility converts municipal solid waste into electricity, offering a sustainable energy source to the capital while reducing methane emissions at landfill sites. In addition, community-based initiatives like the “Clean and Green Ethiopia” campaign encourage citizen participation in waste segregation and recycling, promoting environmental stewardship and community empowerment.

Resource Recovery Programs

Resource recovery programs tap into innovative technologies that release value from waste materials. Such initiatives in Ethiopia include producing biogas from organic waste and wastewater treatment plants, reducing environmental pollution and producing renewable energy and organic fertilizers. These programs empower locals by providing them with access to clean energy sources and enhanced agricultural productivity for poverty reduction.

With the support of international organizations, the Ethiopian Biogas Program began in 2009 and has since installed more than 42,000 biogas digesters in rural households, substituting traditional sources of biomass fuels and hence improving indoor air quality. The same applies to the wastewater treatment plant of the Hawassa Industrial Park, which recycles and treats industrial effluent to prevent water pollution of Lake Hawassa, sustaining the industrial development of the region in an environmentally friendly way.

Upcycled Ventures

Upcycled ventures give otherwise discarded material a high-value new life, creating a circular economy where waste represents a valuable resource. In Ethiopia, social enterprises like Sabahar and SoleRebels typify transformational potential through upcycling. Sabahar produces exquisite textiles from recycled materials, which gives artisans sustainable livelihoods while preserving traditional weaving techniques. Similarly, SoleRebels transforms old tires into fashionable footwear, offering opportunities for employment among marginalized groups while reducing waste in landfills.

These businesses not only help reduce poverty but also promote social inclusion and cultural conservation. These enterprises combine traditional craftsmanship with innovation in design, projecting cultural heritage to the world while generating income for their local communities.

Final Remark on Poverty in Ethiopia

The impacts of circular economy innovations extend into environmental sustainability dimensions, such as social and economic benefits, by creating new markets for recycled materials, employment opportunities and efficiency in resource use that contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive economic growth. However, such scaling up would involve a collaborative partnership among government, private sector and civil society stakeholders, coupled with investment in research, infrastructure and capacity building.

For a country like Ethiopia, which faces huge challenges regarding poverty and environmental issues, embracing circular economy innovations could show the way toward sustainable and inclusive development. The potential of zero-waste initiatives, resource recovery programs and upcycling enterprises can secure resilience in communities, protect natural resources and uplift the most vulnerable populations in Ethiopia. 

– Honorine Lanka Perera

Honorine is based in Highland, NY, USA and focuses on Business and Technology for The Borgen Project.

Photo: Flickr