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Waste & Recycling Business Ideas for 2024: Africa's top opportunities

Africa now generates waste that could add up to $8 billion (annually) to its economy, according to UNEP. This detailed guide explores 20 of Africa's most lucrative opportunities in waste recycling and the circular economy.

Africa sits on a latent multi-billion-dollar circular economy that could create wealth from recycled waste. Photo by Nareeta Martin

On average, Africans generate about 1.2 kilograms of waste per person per day, and the continent’s waste is piling up fast.

Waste is a vast category that comprises solids and liquids and includes everything from kitchen waste, sewage, farm waste, market waste, office waste, and industrial waste, to prolific inorganic wastes like plastics, metals, and glass.

Currently, more than 90% of Africa's waste ends up in open dumpsites, landfills, and water bodies like canals and rivers. As a result, 19 of the world’s 50 biggest landfills are now located in sub-Saharan Africa.

These open landfills are a major threat to public health and the environment because they emit significant amounts of toxic gases like methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times more devastating than CO₂ in its global warming effects.

By 2050, the volume of waste produced in Africa is projected to triple from 174 million tonnes (in 2016) to 516 million tonnes, according to one study published by The Lancet.

Some of the biggest drivers of waste production in Africa include rapid population growth and urbanization, increasing consumption of packaged goods, higher industrial waste, and the worrying rise of illegal global waste trafficking to Africa.

However, while Africa's rising waste volumes are a major environmental and public health problem, they actually present a huge business and investment opportunity in an untapped circular economy.

Studies by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) find that Africa’s landfills are actually assets that could inject up to $8 billion into the African economy every year.

Our market research insights reveal 20 of Africa's most lucrative opportunities that extract economic value from waste through various modes of recycling.

20. Waste-to-Energy plants

Waste-to-Energy (WtE) has emerged as a major opportunity for creating value from Africa’s waste and landfill problems.

This concept diverts landfill waste to WtE plants where it is burned to generate steam for electricity production. Valuable metals such as iron, steel, aluminum, and copper are also recovered from the waste and sold in the secondary metals market.

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