How Africa can reduce waste and build a vibrant productive Circular Economy

How Africa can reduce waste and build a vibrant productive Circular Economy

In Africa, emerging technologies like IoT, Big Data, 3D Printing and Blockchain will be at the heart of a shift from the traditional linear and wasteful ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model towards a circular economy which is restorative and regenerative by design.

A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.

Globally, the circular economy opportunity is estimated to be worth USD 4.5 trillion by 2030. The combination of circular economy benefits with the ability of emerging technologies to create exponential change harbors greatest potential in Africa given the grand challenges the continent needs to overcome including those associated with shortage of food, water and energy.

Emerging technologies will play a critical role in supporting and scaling new circular economy business models that promise to catapult the continent towards the new age of industrialization. The virtuous and dynamic fusion of circular economy principles and technologies will manifest in the form of better design and utilization of assets, optimization and reduction of inputs and localization of production.

As ‘things’ become more and more intelligent they will generate volumes of rich granular data on run time. Cisco predicts the number of IoT devices to increase to 500 billion by 2030 and the total volume of data generated by IoT devices to rise to 600 ZB per year by 2020. Like in other countries, advancements in sensors, software, microprocessors and connectivity will also vastly enhance data storage and exchange in Africa. This will allow optimization of usage of connected objects and devices and also inform the design of more effective and durable products in the future.

Tech-enabled enterprises in Africa applying circular economy models will also enhance asset reuse and contribute to a cleaner environment by delivering products as a service. Angaza offers a ‘pay-as-you-go’ platform in countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia for selling intelligent and connected solar lighting devices. The connected devices can be directed to switch on and off depending on the user’s account balance.

Product Health has developed a connected device that helps users in Sub Saharan Africa track health of batteries that charge solar panels, using their phones. Its Smart Battery Dashboard uses algorithms to warn users of destructive battery use patterns based on readings of voltage, current and temperature.

If business continues as usual in Africa, its food import bill will rise to USD 150 billion by 2050, water scarcity will displace up to 700 million people by 2030 and it will take the continent till 2080 to achieve universal access to electricity. Emerging technologies like IoT, AI and Big Data analytics will accelerate application of circular economy principles to help Africa address these large development challenges by optimizing use of scarce resource inputs and facilitating smarter and better decisions. Innovations unfolding globally on this front hold greatest impact potential in Africa.

Aerofarms in the US for example, uses sophisticated analytics to cultivate crops indoors which significantly increases yields. The enterprise leverages advanced predictive analysis and diagnostics to grow crops without soil and pesticides, track their nutrient requirements on a run-time basis and cut water usage by 90%. In fact, the same circular economy principles of input optimization and wastage reduction are already being tapped by enterprises like UjuziKilimo in Kenya.


  • The number of objects and devices connected to the internet will increase from 10 billion in 2013 to up to 40 billion in 2019 and to 500 billion by 2030.
  • The total volume of data generated by IoT devices is expected to reach 600 ZB per year by 2020.
  • Globally, consumer cloud storage per user will increase from 513 MB per month in 2015 to 1.7 GB per month by 2020.
  • The cost savings and productivity gains generated through “smart” device monitoring and adaptation are projected to create USD1.1 trillion to USD2.5 trillion in value in the health care sector, USD2.3 trillion to USD11.6 trillion in global manufacturing, and USD500 billion to USD757 billion in municipal energy and service provision over the next decade. (Source:
  • Global IP traffic will increase nearly threefold over the next 5 years. Overall, IP traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% from 2015 to 2020. Monthly IP traffic will reach 25 GB per capita by 2020, up from 10 GB per capita in 2015. (Source: Cisco)

Ujuzikilimo uses a sensor-enabled data analytics system to measure soil conditions and quality to provide farmers with personalized SMS-based advice on managing soil and a range of topics including ideal crops to be farmed on their farms, required pest control and current market value of crops.

Emerging technologies such as 3D Printing, IoT, and Big Data will transform the way products are manufactured. They will trigger a transition to a more localized and decentralised production system that leverages circular economy benefits like reduced wastage, compressed supply chains and minimal logistics requirements and lower environmental damage. Such a production system promises to create opportunities for new enterprises and individuals to enter the supply chain using locally available resources.

For Africa, this shift translates to an opportunity to leapfrog into a new age of efficient, self-reliant and sustainable manufacturing. A promising start has already been made in this direction. A Togolese inventor Afate Gnikou built a 3D printer costing USD 100 from electronic waste. Tech-enabled enterprises are leveraging 3D Printing technology to develop prototypes of innovative low cost energy solutions like a portable solar power generator (Peppermint Energy) and bicycle-powered generators (Designs for Hope).

The continent needs to move from a wasteful system of economic production to a circular economic productive system to enable restoration and higher productivity..

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