Thermal conversion of waste-to-energy by incineration in Johannesburg

The City of Johannesburg's population growth and economic activity have resulted in increased amounts of generated municipal solid waste (MSW); concerns developed about landfill airspace depletion. Environmental concerns subsist as a landfilling activity often create greenhouse gases, air pollution and water contamination, therefore, contributing to climate change. Conversely, the City requires electricity to keep its economic activity functional, while providing its citizens with electricity. This case study examined the opportunities and impediments of waste-to-energy (WtE) implementation in the City of Johannesburg. Focus was on thermal conversion by mass-burn incineration, identifying the function of decision-making frameworks in supporting the integrated solid waste management leading to development and WtE implementation. The study established that WtE will stimulate the circular economy in the City of Johannesburg, therefore, contributing to environmental preservation, waste minimisation, and additional electricity capacity for the City. To align with the legislated decision framework, the waste hierarchy, the WtE facility should incorporate the material recovery facility (MRF). The waste hierarchy and other legislated processes, such as the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) and the public-private partnership (PPP) Framework, are inadequate to support WtE development. The research recommends developing a local government-based decision-making framework by the City of Johannesburg—service delivery focused; this would complement existing legislation. A multi-criteria decision making (MCDM) model is suggested. The increase in grid tariffs, cost-reflective gate fees, and introducing landfill tax could contribute to the commercial viability of WtE. The identified barriers are a lack of education and awareness, and improper stakeholder engagement with WtE. Findings indicate a lack of expedited legislation processes tailor-made for projects, such as WtE and five-year political terms, hampering service delivery plans. Findings also identified access to waste by independent power producers (IPPs) and the City of Johannesburg’s financial viability as barriers. These should be focused on to realise WtE implementation.
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Management (in the field of Energy Leadership) to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2022
Waste-to-energy, Municipal solid waste, Circular economy, Decision-making frameworks, City of Johannesburg