The Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines

Urban Waste Transformed

Turning a problem into an opportunity
in Ethiopia’s capital.

Matthew Applegarth

On the southwestern outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, lies the Reppie landfill — a 40-meter-high rubbish mountain containing 50 years of the capital’s accumulated trash. A byword for decay, it is known locally as “Koshe,” meaning “dirty.” But look around, and you will yet see something quite remarkable.

Rising up in the middle of this desolate landscape is a gleaming, cavernous structure, its twin flue-gas chimney stacks pointing skyward like the spires of a modernist cathedral. This is the Reppie Waste-to-Energy facility, the first of its kind to be constructed in Sub-Saharan Africa and a shining symbol of transformation and regeneration. The facility, expected to be fully operational later this year, will combust freshly collected domestic waste and convert it into much-needed electricity. It will process 85 percent of Addis Ababa’s waste and produce 185,000.000 kw/hours of electricity per annum — more than 30 percent of the capital’s current electricity demand. 

This US$120-million project was conceived in 2013, and construction began in late 2014. The development, design and construction has been carried out by a consortium of Cambridge Industries Ltd and its partner China National Electric Engineering Co on behalf of the Ethiopian Electric Power Company, which is being advised by Danish engineering firm Ramboll.

The need for affordable electricity for Ethiopia’s growing economy is self-evident, but the environmental case for establishing waste-to-energy plants like Reppie is overwhelming. Landfills pollute groundwater and rivers with toxic leachate; they emit vast quantities of harmful gases like methane into the atmosphere; and, because they are physically unstable, they are dangerous places for human beings to be around. A rubbish landslide at Koshe in 2017 destroyed dwellings on the edge of the landfill, tragically resulting in the loss of many lives. The Reppie waste-to-energy plant will process fresh rubbish only, so while the existing mountain of refuse nearby will remain, it will prevent future landfills from being created and, it is hoped, prevent similar tragedies from occurring. 

The Reppie facility will be fueled by waste collected from all over Addis Ababa. Two grates, designed by German firm Martin Gmbh, will combust this waste to generate heat that will drive two steam turbines. Rather than being expelled into the atmosphere, the gases created by the combustion will be scrubbed and cleaned by a flu gas treatment which meets stringent European Union emissions regulations. Surplus hot water and steam will be made available to local businesses, while the inert residue ash from the incinerated waste will be converted into bricks for construction use.

The Reppie facility is a powerful symbol of regeneration in Ethiopia. Waste, for so long a scar on Africa’s landscape, can, it seems, be transformed from a problem into something of real value.