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Published on 19/07/2019

Africompost: reducing waste at the source

Lomé, the capital of Togo, is a thriving city experiencing urban growth of 3 % per year. Today, almost 23 % of the country’s entire population live there. Every year, over 350,000 tons of waste are produced on the outskirts of this urban district. The Africompost project aims to use organic waste for composting, thereby reducing costs for the city of Lomé, while at the same time preserving the environment.

The commune of Lomé considers the issue of waste as central to the well-being of its citizens. Since 2008, it has been implementing a proactive policy to structure and professionalise the entire public waste management service in its territory. Efforts made in recent years made it possible to organise and plan pre-collection of household waste by formal micro-businesses. The latter are in charge of collecting waste from its place of production and transporting it to gathering points, in return for direct payment by the user. The waste is then collected at the gathering points by collection operators – paid per ton collected by the commune of Lomé – and transported to the new technical landfill site in Aképé, which was opened in 2018.

Modernisation of the service at a significant cost

This modernisation of the service has visibles effects and has generated considerable improvement of the living environment and urban sanitation in recent years. However, the very high cost of these efforts has not yet led to sufficient revenues and the service has not yet achieved its equilibrium. The opening of the new technical landfill site, which replaced a landfill that had been saturated for several years, contributed to exponentially increasing the costs of waste treatment, which rose from 1.4 € to 8.5 € per ton buried. The remoteness of the  new technical landfill site also impacted on transport costs with an increase in distances travelled. With the support of its partners, the commune of Lomé is now placing particular focus on funding of this service, with a view to guaranteeing its sustainability.

Reducing costs in the sector

After the pre-collection and collection stages, almost 250,000 tons are transported every year to the technical landfill site. In parallel, waste characterisation conducted monthly by Togolese NGO Enpro, shows that waste in the traditional process of collection and treatment at the technical landfill site is made up of 70 % of sand and organic matter (35 % for each of these two components). In other words, this analysis demonstrates that sand is not commonly considered as waste and it represents considerable cost for the commune of Lomé, but also that organic matter has significant conversion potential – in particular for compost.

In this context, since 2017, Enpro, the Gevalor association and, more recently, GRET, are conducting the Africompost (in french) project, which intends to demonstrate the pertinence of a “grand detour” of waste to the benefit of the commune of Lomé.

The “grand detour”

Since April 2019, the Gevalor and GRET teams have been working jointly with local partner Enpro to demonstrate the economic, environmental and social benefits of this detour of waste upstream of collection and landfill. The composting platform managed directly by the Togolese partner is located at one of the commune’s five gathering points. Waste is transported there after pre-collection and treated at the composting site. Every year, Enpro receives approximately 4,500 tons of waste. Thanks to the re-use of organic waste in composting, recovery of sand and fine substances re-used by construction businesses, and to sorting of recyclable materials (metals and plastics), only 1,100 tons of non re-usable waste are transported to the technical landfill site. 75 % of material arriving at the platform is therefore otherwise disposed of. On a daily basis, Enpro seeks to further reduce this matter re-injected into the collection and treatment chain at the technical landfill site to get closer to zero waste.

Outlets for re-use and recycling of waste arriving at the platform:

– Organic matter re-used as compost => Famers – nursery growers – market gardeners – individuals

– Sand and fine matter => Construction sector for earthwork – lawn

– Recyclable matter => recovery chains in the informal sector

– Glass => ground and re-sold to make interlocking paving stones

In economic terms, the impact is significant. According to the tonnage of waste treated, Enpro enables the commune of Lomé to save between 50,000 and 60,000 euros annually by treating just 1.4 % of waste produced by the urban district. The pertinence of re-use thanks to “avoided costs”, demonstrated in Lomé in particular, is really starting to emerge among development stakeholders working in the waste sector. This new paradigm makes it possible to envisage re-use on a larger scale, as a means to respond to the issue of healthy living conditions in developing cities while curbing the exponential costs of modernising a service.

In environmental terms, the impact is just as significant, because the activity contributes to considerably reducing greenhouse gas emissions (in particular methane) produced by the decomposition of waste. Every year, on average between 800 and 1,200 tons CO2 equivalent are avoided thanks to Enpro’s composting activity (i.e. the equivalent of 500 airline flights between Paris and Lomé).

The viability of the model remains dependent on the will of communes

Nevertheless, the viability of composting platforms is still far from guaranteed. Revenues generated by re-use of waste alone cannot cover the entire costs of operating a composting platform. To ensure their sustainability after official development aid projects have ended, GRET and its partner Enpro are working in close collaboration on the composting platform’s economic model.

To make the existing platform sustainable and envisage upscaling, the essential solution today lies in drawing up contracts and invoicing the local authority for treatment via composting, based on the economic externalities generated.

In Lomé, Enpro and GRET have demonstrated that paying just 50 % of savings generated to the platform would contribute to balancing the composting platform in the territory and making it sustainable.

In light of the economic issues for the entire chain and the quantity of waste that could be re-used in Lomé, this issue deserves to be examined attentively.

More information on the project (in french)
See also: “Détourner les déchets – Innovations socio-techniques dans les villes du Sud” Technical briefs – AFD (in french)
See the interview with Jocelyne Delarue on the collaboration between GRET and Gevalor
More information on GRET’s drinking water, sanitation and waste management activities