Fast Growth, Rising Waste Investment

Waste investments can be found in all sorts of places you might not expect. While the bulk of attention naturally focuses on the major developed economies, it may pay to glance occasionally elsewhere. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently released its latest economic GDP forecasts. The top fastest-growing countries for the 2019-2024 period are listed in the chart below, ranked by the value of new waste sector investment, as reported in the AcuComm database.

Almost all of these countries are classed as developing economies, with some still at a very low level of economic development. It’s only natural that these should register the highest growth levels. What’s perhaps more surprising is the amount of waste and related investment there is. Out of the top 25 countries, 17 have at least one project either in the planning or construction stage. There are 566 in total, valued at US$48.1 billion; a considerable sum of money.

Newsletter chart wk 15

China dominates the list with US$34.0 billion, around 71% of the value. While China’s GDP growth is slowing a little, the waste management sector remains huge, both in terms of its current size and potential. India, in second place, is faster-growing but at a lower level of development. Nevertheless, new waste projects in India are estimated at US$6.2 billion. Other countries where AcuComm lists new investments over US$500 million are the Philippines, Vietnam, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda and Ivory Coast.

There’s activity further down the list too. One recent example is Bhutan, where a comprehensive clinical waste programme was announced in January 2019, supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Another is Uganda, where an anaerobic digestion plant at a sewage facility in Kampala neared completion in December 2018. Projects like this are not particularly large, but all need construction/engineering expertise and equipment, all of which will need to be imported.

Projects in developing countries often involve external funding agencies, such as the aforementioned ADB or its compatriot the African Development Bank (AfDB). The European Union is involved through a number of bodies, principally the European Investment Bank (EIB). The EIB is generally, though not exclusively, active in supporting projects in the less-well-off parts of Europe, whether in or out of the European Union. Recent part-funded projects include the establishment of new WtE, landfill and recycling facilities in Serbia, modern landfill in Armenia, and improvement of landfill and waste management expertise in Kyrgyzstan. You can see the full list here.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is an even bigger lender. AcuComm lists around 100 projects with EBRD involvement. It is not an EU agency, although it sometimes works in tandem with the EIB. It tends to concentrate on supporting projects in eastern Europe and the former USSR, often in countries or regions with little prior experience of modern waste management.

Working in developing countries attracts risk, of course, and it is likely that not all the projects in the table above will come to fruition. Reliable funding is an issue, but there are challenges to be overcome even when cash is provided by an external donor. Bureaucracy is one, when dealing with funding agencies and local government agencies alike. Developing countries are less likely to have had time to establish the management structures and experience needed to progress a major project, and indeed strengthening such capacity is often a key element of donor-funded projects. A country’s climate or power/water infrastructure may present challenges not found in western Europe or north America. Finally, there can be political difficulties regarding the sustainability or even the desirability of major investments in developing countries.

And yet… for all that, US$48.1 billion is a lot of money. It’s a sign that attention is being paid to global opportunities, as countries grow wealthier, and in need of – and able to afford – modern waste infrastructure.

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