Namibia: Long-term Market Opportunities Ahead

15 years ago, the waste management sector in Namibia employed approximately 900 people, half of them in Windhoek alone. Recycling in one form or another took place in 24 of 35 local authorities, most carried out by scavengers; eight of 35 local authorities took materials to recycling enterprises. The State of Environment Report estimated a waste generation of approximately 0.5 kilogram per person and day on average, ranging from 0.33 kilogram for people in the low income portion of the population to 0.68 kilogram per person and day for people with high income. In Khomas in the middle of Namibia and centered in the capital city Windhoek, the waste generation amounted to 52,000 tons per year, while some regions in the South reached only 5,200 tons per year.

Extrapolated from a domestic waste sample of Windhoek, total waste quantity generated in Namibia per year included 46,000 tons of paper, 36,000 tons of plastic, 29,000 tons of glass and 11,000 tons of metals. But only a fraction of less than five percent was exported to South Africa for recycling each year. It must be added, that approximately 4.4 to 5.5 million liters per year of used oil were disposed of inappropriately, and an additional 1.2 to 1.4 million liters of used oil were recovered for re-use. Only a small fraction of generated 16 tons of medical waste per year were disposed of appropriately, in functioning incinerators and hazardous waste cells.

A developing country in southwestern Africa, formerly called South West Africa, Namibia is almost twice the size of California and has a population of approximately two million. The country gained its independence from South Africa in 1990. Some regions in the country`s south exemplify apartheid land policy from when South Africa ruled Namibia. Besides that, this districts have a very arid climate and the population density of the Hardap region is lower than in the other regions in Namibia. A case study of Keetmanshoop showed that waste management in these towns was inefficient and inconsistent. The improper waste management practices were mainly due to an often delayed or non-existent communication. And a study by the Worcerster Polytechnic Institute for the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia found out, that in the communities Gründorn South and Nico Noord the waste was filled in bins or containers or filled up to a disposal site. When the bins were filled up, the waste was lit, same as with the waste in the open stocking area. As the study states, burning was still the primary method of disposal in these regions in 2012. Glass bottles were the only product to be consistently recycled.

Windhoek: the cleanest city

Not so Windhoek. Since several years, the city is widely recognized as one of the cleanest cities in Africa and puts strong emphasis on protecting and improving this status. Its aim was and is to progressively graduate from a clean to a green city, dependening on a well-functioning waste management system. The vision of Windhoek`s Solid Waste Management Division: “To be a world class solid waste management service provider to our people and become the cleanest City in the World by 2030“.

In 2008, the Windhoek municipality began formulating a solid waste management policy. Two years later, the city launched a Solid Waste Management Policy under the theme “Moving towards a green City” to provide a framework within which waste can be managed effectively to minimize and avoid adverse impacts brought about by unnecessary waste generated and improper waste practices. Waste minimization involves the avoidance of generating waste in the first instance, and where waste cannot be avoided, it refers to minimizing waste to landfill through alternative methodologies, e.g. recovery, re-use and recycling (the 3 R’s).

The Clear Bag system

In 2010, Windhoek saw the launch of the Clear Bag Household Recycling project in partnership with recycling firms Enviro-Fill Namibia and Rent-A-Drum. The Clear Bag System requires residents to separate paper, glass, plastics and cans from the rest of their household waste into clear bags for recycling. Rent-A-Drum collects the recyclables weekly and sorts them at the Rent-A-Drum Material Recovery Facility (MRF) into various categories. Windhoek sorting station is employing a staff of 130 people and is able to process up to 1600 tons of waste per month. On the waste be sorted, 20 percent of the input cannot be recycled and need to be landfilled. Almost all the recyclables are contained or bailed, sold and sent to South Africa for recycling.

Disposal – in a very organized and professional manner – is done at Kupferberg landfill, providing maximum yields of materials and income. Situated in the southwest of the city and approximately eleven kilometers from the city centre, the site stands for the disposal of general and hazardous waste, generated within the city of Windhoek’s area of jurisdiction. The general site has been in existence for over 20 years, while the hazardous site was commissioned in 1998.

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E-waste collection introduced

In early 2012, the Transworld Cargo Pty Ltd launched a pilot program to see whether e-waste collection would be feasible in Namibia. Successfully tested, the company in partnership with the City of Windhoek introduced an e-waste management solution for Windhoek in October 2014. In the heart of the partnership program stood the raising of awareness amongst the city`s residents and business community on the availability of an environmentally and economically beneficial recycling solution for e-waste. The program covers office equipment, consumer electronics and household appliances. The collection service does not include CFC containing fridges, collected batteries, light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps, items containing asbestos, oil heating installations, specialized medical equipment or smoke detectors. According to Windhoek`s Solid Waste Management Dividion, apparently 70 percent of the material stream can be recycled with a remainder of 30 percent to be disposed of at landfill site.

In August 2014, the City of Windhoek commissioned a Registration System for Waste Generator at their Solid Waste Management Division. Waste generators of more than five tonnes of general waste per month are required to be registered. “There is a lack of information pertaining to the quantities and types of waste generated and there is limited waste tracking systems in place to ensure that waste is transported to approved facilities for disposal,“ the online-magazine All Africa cites the Deputy Mayor of Windhoek, Muezee Kazapua.

2.7 kilogram of waste per day

However, according to the City of Windhoek Solid Waste Management department, it is estimated that every Windhoek citizen produces approximately 2.7 kilogram of waste per day, totalling 870 tons of waste per day.

Investigating the municipals Solid Waste Management Policy, the International Labour Organization launched a report analyzing the system of small- and medium-sized enterprises of so-called “ward contractors”, commissioned for the provision of cleaning and collection services to Windhoek. The figures published 2013 indicate that the largest part of the waste collected every day is paper and cardboard, followed by glass. Sand with approximately 12.3 percent ist followed by recyclable and non-recyclable plastics as well as cans, estimated to make up slightly more than ten percent of the collected waste. Garden refuse, food/scraps, dung/ excrement, as well as mixed waste account for approximately ten percent of the waste collected. “Other items that were mentioned included used household items such as fridges, mattresses or furniture, clothing, iron, metal carcasses, bones, ash and coal, as well as batteries.“

The Recycle Namibia Forum

Meanwhile, the idea of recycling has found support. The Recycle Namibia Forum (RNF) was started in an informal way by Namibia Breweries Ltd, City of Windhoek, Rent-A-Drum, Collect-A-Can, 4H-Namibia, Plastic Packaging and Nuevas Ideas Consulting, was established in 2008 and joins forces on a voluntary basis to promote and facilitate recycling in Namibia.

The non-political and non-profit making association has the mission “to make Namibia the country in Africa that achieves the highest success in promoting the 3 R’s of Recycling, Reusing and Reducing“ and the vision „to successfully implement projects that raise awareness and change the behaviour of Namibians to embrace the 3 R’s“. Since that time enterprises from other branches – like Enviro Fill, Lori Ink, Namibia Dairies, SAPPI re-fibre and the Glass Recycling Company – have entered membership. Now 19 industrial players are listed, covering a wide range of recycling materials and operating throughout the country. So the idea of recycling has begun to spread across Namibia.

Great regional differences

One of the latest reports on the subject was titled „Paving the way for recycling“, edited by the Recycle Namibia Forum and supported by the Environmental Investment Fund of Namibia. The report had to admit that „currently Namibia does not have national statistics or centralized data on recycling, and the information that is available is very limited and fragmented. Applying international models and assumptions is also problematic as Namibia is very unique in terms of its population distribution, high income disparity, and large differences between consumption and waste patterns in urban and rural areas.“

However, an average of 0.6 kilogram of waste per person in rural areas and three kilogram per person in urban areas was assumed, which meant an average of 3,000 tons of waste daily or about one million tons per year being produced in Namibia. The City of Windhoek Solid Waste Management department estimated approximately 2.7 kilogram of waste per citizen and day, totalling 870 tons of waste per day. According to Rent-A-Drum, 60 tons of recyclables are collected daily, which would translate into a recovery rate in the City of Windhoek of 6.9 percent.

Another survey, conducted by the University of Namibia, the Finnish Embassy and Rent-A-Drum in 2013, showed great regional differences in landfilling volume and types. While northern communities like Ondangwa and Ongwediva send 70 tons of recyclables to landfill every week, coastal towns like Swakop/Henties Bay or Walvis Bay dispose of 150 tons of recyclables each, including some 30 tons of bags, between 22 and 28 tons of glass, about 35 tons of carton, more than 30 tons of paper and nine tons of PET bottles.

Only a small market?

Currently 80 per cent of Namibia‘s waste is sent to South Africa for recycling, apart from Polysulfone plastic products that are processed by Polymer Recycling Manufacturers (PRM) at Okahandja, wrote The Namibian in 2012. The administrator of the Recycle Namibia Forum, Wolfgang Schenck, was cited with the statement, that PRM processes 60 percent of the recycled plastic in Namibia and serves 85 percent of the country‘s plastic product needs. But he underlined that setting up properly functioning collection center with bigger capacity is prohibited because of the low prices of waste.

It seems that there is only a small market for recyclable plastics in Namibia, as the waste paper, glass and metal scrap are sold South Africa or exported oversees: Successfully, Collect-A-Can Namibia recorded the “recovery“ of 1,181,900 tons of used beverage containers in 2012. But there are initiatives. The Executive team of collector Fatima Plastics is currently looking to expand further into the rest of Africa given the success of their manufacturing operation in Namibia. Rent-A-Drum is aiming to do their own recycling by building a tissue plant to produce lavatory paper that would use only recyclable paper. According to Wolfgang Schenck, new entrants into the recycling business are supported by loans through the Development Bank of Namibia for acquiring trucks for waste transport to South Africa.

As the  Environmental Investment Fund of Namibia found out, „most businesses indicated that they barely cover their costs; all believe that with more effort, it could become viable“. In all categories of recyclables, the potential for increased recycling successes were mentioned. Challenges and obstacles were identified in transport and logistics, the predominance of balers in the machinery, the access to more sources of recyclables for bigger volumes and the training of staff. Amongst others, additional infrastructure is needed.

A much-needed level of environmental protection

A comprehensive national waste management policy could stimulate the economy too. Back in 2001, the „State of Environment Report on Waste Management and Pollution Control“ edited by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism assessed the existing legislative as „outdated, fragmented and sectoral rather than integrated“ and with little opportunity for public participation. It was mentioned that at least eight government ministries dealed with waste management and pollution control. A dissertation dated 2006 points out that laws governing waste management in Namibia are „inadequate and ineffective“ and that the national legislative framework is „fragmented with no uniform standards. The society is not even aware that there are laws governing waste management in Namibia.“

At 27th of December 2007, the long awaited Environmental Management Act passed the parliament, but came into force not until February 2012. The Environmental Assessment Professionals of Namibia applauded the act providing „a much-needed level of environmental protection in Namibia“. For Raili Hasheela, editing his dissertational thesis at the Universidad Azteca in 2009, the implementation of this framework was too tardily. He wrote: „At the moment, it is a bit discouraging that there is a slow process in implementing some of them [elements of governance for promoting sustainable development], despite the fact that they are the guiding frameworks for the implementation of various environmental activities. Such a process needs to be speeded up.“

The opportunities are significant

Nevertheless, Raili Hasheela argued that „waste management remains a priority for the government, with different government ministries being involved in formulating policies and strategies for dealing with waste and its management.“ And he added, that Namibia is still “in its early stages of development“. But the Environmental Investment Fund judged on balance: “While recycling in Namibia is still in its infancy, and has faced numerous constraints and challenges, the opportunities to considerably increase recycling within Namibia are significant. As a result of the funding and support by the EIF, as well as with the contribution of the members of the Recycle Namibia Forum, a number of exciting initiatives have been identified in the RNF Strategic Framework, and will be driven as a means of creating positive change.“

And Patricia Hoeksema, chairperson of the Recycle Namibia Forum, likewise acted optimistic at the Environmental Compliance Conference in April 2015: “Through commitment and collaboration we can overcome the challenge of distances, low volumes, lack of sorting and containment, and transportation – to help make Namibia the African country with the highest success in reducing, reusing and recycling.”

Photo: Nikovfrmoto |