Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
Today Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Habitat Day, which reflects on the state of towns and cities, and on the basic right of all persons to adequate shelter.
The day is also intended to remind the world that it has all the power and responsibility to shape the future of its cities and towns.
This year’s theme is “Frontier technologies as an innovative tool to transform waste to wealth.”
The theme, which is building on last year’s theme, “Municipal Solid Waste Management”, seeks to promote the contribution of innovative frontier technologies to sustainable waste management to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11:— inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.
According to the World Economic and Social Survey 2018, frontier technologies hold immense potential to improve how people work and live, as well as to significantly accelerate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and address climate change.
The United Nations called for all countries to find innovative ways to create wealth out of all waste produced by human activity (solid, liquid, domestic, industrial and commercial), which continues to have a devastating impact on climate change, public health and the environment.
Technology has great potential to improve how people work and live, to significantly accelerate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and address climate change.
Frontier technologies, such as automation, robotics, electric vehicles, renewable energy technologies, biotechnologies, and artificial intelligence can transform social, economic and environmental spheres.
They can offer better, cheaper, faster, scalable and easy to use solutions for everyday problems, including waste management.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that: “Solutions begin with small steps individuals can take to alter the way our cities function.
“We must reduce the amount of waste we produce, and, at the same time, start seeing it as a valuable resource that can be re-used and recycled, including for energy.”
For Zimbabwe, the task ahead is to harness frontier technologies to achieve sustainable waste management while mitigating their possible adverse economic, social and political consequences.
Zimbabwe’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan noted that solid waste management is one of the most pressing issues faced by urban municipalities throughout the country.
According to the plan, the situation has been caused by rapid urbanisation, which has led to high population densities and sprouting illegal settlements.
It adds that changing consumption patterns have also seen a dramatic increase in urban solid waste generation.
While the country has experienced growth in population density, there have not been commensurate efforts by local authorities to invest in the necessary infrastructure to turn waste into wealth.
Zimbabwe as a nation, starting at the family level, should master the art of garbage separation to avoid mixing biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste.
Municipalities should maximise waste usage to produce renewable energy. In Zimbabwe the collection, transport and disposing of waste is still challenging, while in developed economies, emerging technologies are used to produce different by-products such as heat, electricity, compost and biofuels.
While most people may confuse modern waste-to-energy plants with incinerators of the past, the environmental performance of the industry is beyond reproach.
Hence, local municipalities should invest in waste-to-energy technology for the benefit of the country.
Several studies have determined that waste-to-energy plants actually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere. In developed countries, waste-to-energy plants based on combustion technologies are highly efficient power plants that utilise municipal solid waste as their fuel rather than coal, oil or natural gas.
Far better than expending energy to explore, recover, process and transport the fuel from some distant source, waste-to-energy plants find value in what others consider garbage.
According to renewable energy experts, waste-to-energy plants recover the thermal energy contained in the trash in highly efficient boilers that generate steam that can then be sold directly to industrial customers, or used onsite to drive turbines for electricity production.
Waste-to-energy plants should be constructed in the country because of their efficiency in harnessing untapped energy potential of organic waste by converting the biodegradable fraction of waste into high- calorific value gases like methane.
In many parts of the world, the digested portion of the waste is highly rich in nutrients and is widely used as bio-fertiliser. Waste- to- energy has thrived in Europe and Asia as the pre-eminent method of waste disposal.
Local municipalities should embrace waste-to-energy as the best method of waste disposal, because it has the ability to reduce the volume of waste in an environmentally-friendly manner, generate valuable energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP), Europe currently treats 50 million tonnes of waste at waste-to-energy plants each year, generating an amount of energy that can supply electricity for 27 million people or heat for 13 million people.
As the country steps up efforts towards a green economy, there is need for collective participation in raising awareness and innovation, which will go a long way in transforming waste into wealth.