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Glass recycling in Ethiopia

Together with Haluk Sardag from Turkey and Wondwossen Netanyahu, we studied the glass container market and its related glass waste flows in Ethiopia. The research was performed through desk studies of publicly available data and documents along with questionnaire-based interactions with more than 25 stakeholders. Face to face meetings with the stakeholders could not be carried out due to travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 





Ethiopia displays an interesting case when it comes to container glass and glass recycling. The Ethiopian market reveals a throughput of approximately 1.5 million tons of container glass per year. Shortage of container glass production on the one hand, and international currencies on the other, have forced businesses towards an unprecedented reuse-economy. Only 5% of all used bottles and jars is wasted on a yearly basis. The other 95% is returned into the economy. Most of it through the loop of deposit/return systems for beer, soft-drinks, wine and spirits and a smaller portion through the loop of small-scale users of 2nd hand bottles. 


Maybe also remarkable; all of this is achieved without incentives coming from environmental legal frameworks and solid waste management policies. The legal framework has decentralized most of its waste management responsibilities to the municipality level and the municipalities mostly focus on collection and disposal; not on reuse and recycling. 


At present, recycling of broken bottles as cullet in the glass industry has only a minor contribution. Increasing this recycling will be difficult as this growth will only be possible at the expense of direct bottle reuse. However, this situation can be typified as an unstable equilibrium and it is most probably going to change. Beverage consumption is growing at double digit speed, there’s a pipeline of upcoming investments in the glass industry and the economic development may well lead to less currency restrictions. This will decisively change the scene and reduce the favorable reuse/recycling situation Ethiopia is in.

The simplest option for the glass industry is to increase the procurement of rejected bottles in the beverage fillers industry. It may well deliver some 210,000 tons of cullet to the glass industry by 2030. This option may collaterally lead to phasing out the reuse of 2nd hand bottles.


In case in the upcoming years, the packaging market is moving towards the use of non-returnable bottles, the glass industry will be challenged to involve itself more seriously and investments will be needed. There will be a need for introducing separate collection and recycling plants. Because of the volumes, passive collection of glass through a network of stationary bottle banks (street containers) will be most fitting. 


The glass-industry itself could prepare for the expected phasing out of the use of 2nd hand bottles by introducing cheap, standardized bottles to serve the users of 2nd hand bottles. In this case, active collection can be used to recycle those bottles, employing a workforce of 400 in Addis Ababa alone, that go to collect the glass at the households.

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