Burning African TrashIn Africa, where many communities struggle with poverty and have little access to essential amenities, landfills are providing an unconventional answer to this widespread issue. These landfills, which are typically seen as environmental eyesores and health risks, have unrealized potential that may drastically improve the lives of the continent’s poorest citizens.

This article analyzes the groundbreaking possibility of burning African trash to generate electricity and how this practice can help alleviate global poverty.


Africa’s landfills represent the difficulties experienced by emerging countries. They frequently overflow with trash, causing environmental degradation, risks to public health and an overall sense of neglect.

Close proximity to landfills in poor neighborhoods causes health issues. This is caused by a lack of hygiene, direct contact with toxic substances and the presence of pests. Families are forced to spend more of their already strained resources on health care, which reduces the amount that otherwise would be allocated to economic growth or education.

Landfills also discourage prospective investors, limit tourism and restrict the expansion of local small companies. The negative perception of these areas as “icky” feeds a vicious cycle of poverty.

Energy Poverty

Another problem is that many Africans suffer from energy poverty, a lack of reliable access to energy sources for absolute necessities. These can include lighting, heating, cooking and running necessary appliances. Addressing energy poverty is essential for fighting against global poverty.

New Possibilities in Energy Production

Landfills and energy poverty are two significant nuisances to Africa’s progress. However, a new technology may promise the continent a solution to both of these poverty-related issues. Africa may be able to supply many of its electricity demands by burning landfill garbage with controlled, environmentally friendly methods.

Burning landfill waste results in an enormous decrease in the volume of solid waste, making landfills easier to manage and improving the general sanitation and hygiene in the area while also lowering the danger of infectious diseases. Keeping landfills clean and well-maintained makes the local environment healthier. Although one may think too much particulate matter (PM) is released from this burning, the EPA argues that more than 99% of PM can be removed through filters.

Developing landfill-to-energy projects offers residents of underdeveloped areas employment opportunities. These programs, ranging from waste collection and sorting to operating energy-producing machinery, can give people and families who are dealing with poverty a source of income.

Landfills in Africa have the potential to represent hope for underprivileged populations. Africa may produce up to 20% of its own electricity by unlocking the energy trapped in these trash piles. In addition to addressing energy poverty, burning African trash also provides more hygienic conditions, employment prospects and environmental advantages. Africa can turn trash into treasure and make a huge step toward a brighter, more sustainable future for all of its citizens with the correct investments, policies and community involvement. The continent can fight poverty by turning its waste into valuable energy sources.

– Advait K. Mishra
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Africa
Africa is only responsible for 3.2% of energy usage within the global landscape. Africa suffers from energy poverty, or the lack of access to modern energy services, despite the natural abundance of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. With the potential to generate up to 11,000 GW of electricity, the continent has the means to utilize solar power, wind energy, natural gas, hydroelectricity and fossil fuels and eliminate energy poverty in Africa.

Challenges for Energy Access in Africa

Despite the potential energy Africa has access to, several factors prevent a permanent resolution to energy poverty in Africa. The primary reason comes from federal involvement in energy generation and distribution, or the lack thereof. Poor planning and distorted energy regulation led to persistent electricity inconsistencies in different regions, leading to the state allowing monopolies to run resources without initiating proper federal oversight. To accommodate for the lack of power, many locals turned towards fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, which are unsustainable and environmentally insufficient.

This was common throughout Africa, as many African governments reluctantly accepted the privatization of energy industries. For example, Nigeria’s government split up its central power system and divided it between two private bodies of supply chains and private investors. The government kept control of the national grid system, which receives generated power and facilitates distribution to each private sector. This essentially means that the generation and distribution of energy are privatized, but the government holds the transmission and division of that energy.

Some see this system as problematic because the government holds too much power between the two privatized entities. This makes these privatized entities seem less susceptible to market incentives and like rather corrupt political policies. It defeats the purpose of privatized sections, which should normally encourage competition between private organizations and work towards innovation and consumer efficiency. However, this system does the opposite, and limits the energy capacity to one segment, leaving any excess to waste.

Repercussions of Poor Energy Access

Considering this inefficient system of energy distribution, the repercussions have created a large contrast between certain regions and social groups. Urban areas have access to 70% of the total energy supply in comparison to the rural usage of 20% or less. Other disparities exist between genders and age groups, as women and children in Africa suffer from respiratory diseases that directly link to energy poverty. For example, poorly designed cooking devices that stem indoor biomass cooking have shown causation to health consequences.

The Effect of COVID-19

COVID-19 has also contributed to the increase of energy poverty in Africa and will continue to have negative effects on Africa’s recovery. The virus not only caused 6,524 deaths in Africa out of 175,503 confirmed cases but also continues to threaten Africa’s access to proper sanitation and clean cooking facilities. The pandemic has also halted global intervention to increase energy efficiency, because a majority of resources are largely going toward the COVID-19 response. Considering energy poverty in Africa stems from the lack of political reforms and the pandemic, how can Africa address the issue?


John Ifediora, a professor of economics emeritus at the University of Wisconsin System, as well as a researcher, law attorney and economist, suggested several political changes to combat energy poverty in Africa. He highlighted the significance of regulating and normalizing the use of solar power and wind energy and lessening the reliance on fossil fuels to provide sustainability within local communities.

He also suggested that governments reform their cooperation with private companies, taking advantage of their economic tendencies and competitiveness. By allowing one private organization to take over sections of Africa and facilitate the generation, transmission and distribution of energy, self-regulation will develop among those companies as they keep to affordable prices, energy commerce and competitive innovation.

Dr. Vera Songwe, the U.N. Undersecretary-General and expert on Africa, also added that certain global programs are working to implement assistance to promote energy access in Africa. Global Commission to End Energy Poverty, Economic Commission for Africa and global projects such as Start-Up Energy Transition Programme are constantly working to implement an efficient energy distribution system for Africa.

Energy poverty in Africa is a major factor that hinders the progression of health, economy, education and agriculture, and fuels global poverty in general. Though it is crucial for Africa’s political policies to address and respond to this issue, more organizations are working to combat energy deficiency and implement self-sustainable solutions to help locals in the long-run.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr