Mahlet Desalegn

Project: Medical waste management and its impact on climate and health

Mahlet obtained her BSc in civil engineering from Adama Science and Technology University, Ethiopia in 2012. For the past seven years, she has been working full-time in a consulting and construction firm in Addis Ababa, and as a part time freelancer in various projects.

Owing to her professional exposure to infrastructure matters, Mahlet became more concerned with keeping the environment safe and clean. Therefore, in 2015 she has joined the MSc program in environmental engineering in Addis Ababa Science and Technology University with a full scholarship. Nowadays Mahlet believes that growth at the expense of environmental preservation amounts to stealing from the next generation. In particular, Mahlet is intent on figuring out how to reuse waste for other purposes. During her MSc research, she created a way to reuse textile wastes to create walling material using bio-enzymes. Mahlet wants to engage with research projects focused on climate change, green economy, sustainable development, water preservation, waste management, and resource utilization. 


My project aims to address the emissions of carbon and hazardous gases from the burning of medical waste. Due to the rapid population growth in the city of Addis Ababa, poor disposal of hospital wastes, which include a wide range of infectious and hazardous pollutants, has become one of the main health and environmental problems. Some of the health effects are mutations; cancer; respiratory damage; central nervous system effects; and reproductive system damage.

I went to hospital twice a day, morning and afternoon, for a week and weighed hospital waste from each ward. I found that the materials and equipment for collecting waste are insufficient. After collection of waste, almost all of it will be burned. The ashes from the furnace are then put into landfill. I still intend on making this research endeavour a reality. This is a project which I believe will represent an innovative contribution to environmental protection and climate change, as air pollution caused by the burning of waste affect people through inhalation. Moreover, the research will address responsible bodies in the health sector, in order to achieve into policy reform, developing a pollution-free waste disposal method to achieve sustainable development in the city.


As a child, seeing my father dealing with asthma because of polluted air, smoke, and dust in the neighbourhood, I was eager to grow up and bring change into our lives.

Nowadays when designing construction projects in my job, I take every chance to consider their environmental impact. I also started using my social media accounts to educate my friends and my community. Furthermore, I regularly volunteer for events related to greenery, energy efficiency, and waste management.

These experiences and the people I meet keep my passion alive and make me want to pursue a career in environmental policy-making.