Solid waste management and recycling in Ethiopia

We have a waste problem. Currently the world generates around 2 billion tonnes of solid waste annually and this is estimated to rise to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050, 1.4 billion tonnes coming from Africa.

The modern waste collection methods of the economically developed countries can collect more than 90% of waste and recycle around 20% of what is collected. On the other hand, in Africa, including Ethiopia, the waste collection is less than 40% with only around 4% recycled.

Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa next to Nigeria, with a population of 115 million approximately. And since the amount of waste generated is directly related with the population size, Ethiopia has a high waste amount compared to other African countries. In addition to population size, rapid expansion of urbanization also has a high impact on waste generated amount. In Ethiopia, where the number of urban dwellers has been increasing each year, the waste generation has also increased from 9,700 tonne/day in 2015 to 12,200 ton/day in 2020. By 2030, it is likely the 2015 national daily waste amount will be doubled.

Challenges for solid waste management and recycling

Solid waste management is a major challenge facing cities in the developing countries like Ethiopia. You see waste in the main streets of the cities and even around public service centres, like schools and health centres. This waste can cause health and environmental problems and traffic jams and affects urban tourism by disgusting local and international tourists.

The challenges for solid waste management and recycling in Ethiopia can be categorised in to six main groups.

  1. Policy and legal: the government has a policy and legal system for solid waste management, including the National integrated urban sanitation and hygiene strategy 2017, and the Solid waste management proclamation No 513/2007. However, at the ground level, there is no implementation mechanism to assist the MSEs (Micro and Small Enterprises) and other informal waste collectors to modernize their collection and disposal of waste.
  2. Institutional: The main ministry responsible for solid waste management in Ethiopia is the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing. An interview with the Ministry and other stakeholders, revealed a lack of skilled human resources and weak institutional linkage and cooperation with government and private entities. This lack of capacity at the Ministry is the main reason for so many informal recycling companies. With a stronger ministry, these informal enterprises could be easily up scaled up to formal MSEs through training and capacity building programs.
  3. Technical: Transportation and logistics problems across the country mean, waste collection coverage is small compared to waste generation coverage. Many areas have no, or only traditional, recycling systems.
  4. Financial: The lack of financial security and low service charges for pollution clear up and waste collection reduces the incentive for informal and MSE waste collectors to work hard or try to expand. At the government level, there is poor waste budget planning and management.
  5. Social: There is a lack of awareness of waste management and recycling and some restrictive cultural and traditional thinking that highly affects the development of the sector.
  6. Political: Waste management and recycling is not a popular topic for politicians, and it rarely gets their commitment. This lack of political interest leads to a lack of proper funding, management and monitoring. For example, tragically, in 2016 over 115 people died in a garbage land slide at Reppi, an Addis Ababa garbage disposal site.

Opportunities for solid waste management and recycling

The Ethiopian economy is highly dependent on the import of industrial outputs because of the low capacity of local industries and the lack of raw materials, like plastic, aluminium and paper.  Ethiopia also has a foreign currency shortage due to this high demand for industrial outputs from abroad. Recycling can play a role in helping solve the vicious cycle by creating a supply of raw materials in the country.

Opportunities in the plastic industry

Ethiopia is the second largest importer of plastic raw materials from east and central African countries. The current amount of plastic consumption in Ethiopia is about 386,000 tonnes/year. Due to a lack of technology, investment, and experience only 30–40% of the plastic waste is recycled.

For example, there are more than 60 bottled water companies in the Ethiopian market, selling around 3.5 billion bottles of water per year. In contrast, there are only around ten plastic bottle recyclers and only two of them are using the hot wash processing that obtains a higher quality of flakes. These two higher quality recyclers only produce for export. There is room in the market for more plastic recyclers, especially those using hot wash processing that creates high quality inputs for Ethiopia’s domestic manufacturing and materials for export.

Opportunities in the paper industry

Ethiopia spends over a US$100 million/year importing of paper raw materials. In contrast, there are more than 15 formal and informal paper recyclers in Ethiopia and collectively they only recycle only around 5% of paper. More than 200,000 tonnes of paper and cartons are lost wastage which is dumped, burned or left in the streets as a garbage.

Panda Paper is a success story for paper recycling. It installed 40 mobile waste paper deposit sites around the capital city, to allow communities and individuals to sell their waste paper at US$0.04/kg. The company contracted around 7000 MSEs and collectors and created 90 full time jobs. The company also partnered with the Addis Ababa city administration to organize and coordinate a paper collection system. Panda Paper is an outstanding performer in the paper recycling sector but even Panda and plus all other recyclers collectively only recycle 5% of the total waste. The sector has room for more entrepreneurs to engage and invest. 

Opportunities in tyre re-treading and recycling

The high economic growth and development in between 2010 and 2020 increased the demand for cars and, therefore, car tyres. Currently there are more than600,000 registered cars in Ethiopia. On average the country imports 32,470 tonnes of tyres per year. And most of these tyres are disposed of in the environment because only less than 5% of tyres in Ethiopia are re-treaded or recycled.

In 2018, I was a part of tire re-treading and recycling business investigation in Ethiopia for the Japanese company Fukunaga Engineering. This investigation unveiled there were feasible business opportunities for the right enterprises. This industry needs the engagement of entrepreneurs or SMEs with better access to technology and a larger capacity, because the tyre re-treading and recycling industry needs more specialised machines and technology compared to other recycling technologies. However, due to the high price of tyres, it is feasible to get an investment return. The investigation also found the government and the Chemical and Construction Inputs Industry Development Institute welcomed cooperation with entrepreneurs.

When we presented this business idea at a conference in Japan many delegates from Africa requested to collaborate, so it appears this business untouched many African countries.


From the above opportunity examples, you can see the potential of waste! By inviting the local, national and international private sector into the waste collection and treatment services, Ethiopia can create employment opportunities for unemployed youths. To attract more investment, the government should facilitate and support the sector and give incentives and subsidies.

Giz. Global Business Network (GBN) Programme, “Partnership Ready Ethiopia: Recycling Sector.” 14 Apr. 2020, GBN_SectorBrief_Äthiopien-Recyling_E_WEB.pdf (
 “Waste and Recycling Companies and Suppliers in Ethiopia: Environmental XPRT.” Waste and Recycling Companies and Suppliers in Ethiopia,
Seifu, Bereket. “Waste for Value (W4V) in Ethiopia.” Global Compact, 12 Nov. 2019,
UNDP Ethiopia. “Minalesh Tera: How Addis Ababas informal recycling and reusing market supports formal waste management” 13 July 2020,–how-addis-ababas-informal-recycling-and-reusing-m.html
Reporter, Staff. “Ethiopia: Involving Community in Recycling Solid Waste.”, 29 Nov. 2021,
Adugna, Berihun Tefera. (2007). “Solid Waste Recycling in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Making a business of waste management”. Urban Agriculture Magazine.
Camilla Louise Bjerkli “The cycle of plastic waste: An analysis on the informal plastic recovery system in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia” July 2005.
Kelly Kneeland & Björn Knutson 2012, Chapter 6.” Waste Management for Social and Environmental benefits in Ethiopian cities.”
Interview with experts from the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing
Interview with Chemical and Construction Inputs Industry Development Institute (CCIIDI)


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One thought on “Solid waste management and recycling in Ethiopia

  1. The problem of garbage recycling is very serious, and we should pay more and more attention to it. After all, resources are limited. If we do not develop a good habit of garbage recycling, it is not conducive to sustainable development. Of course, foreign capital investment is also necessary.

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