When future archaeologists peel back the layers of our history, will they uncover the Landfill Era?
“We are a heavily landfill dependent country,” said Quinton Williams, Environmental Consultant with Jeffares & Green and a speaker at last week’s Waste Compliance meeting, organised by Institute of Waste Management South Africa (IWMSA).
Quinton introduced waste from a South African perspective. Of the 1.3 billion tonnes of waste generated on the planet, 5% of that is produced in Sub-Saharan Africa and a total of 108 million tonnes generated in South Africa. These waste figures are expected to double by 2025.
Only 10% of our waste is currently recycled. The other 98 million tonnes directed to landfill consists of 59 million tonnes of general waste, 48 million tonnes of unclassified waste and 1 million tonnes of hazardous waste.
Moves to manage our waste
The National Environmental Management Waste Act (2008) was amended this year to include “Waste is any substance, whether or not that substance can be reduced, reused, recycled and or recovered”. However, once it has been through one of these processes, it is no longer deemed as waste.
The Waste Act states that waste producers are responsible for the waste they generate. All waste generators and managers have to have an Integrated Waste Management Plan (IWMP) so that the either the local municipality or government can check how they manage their waste. If any of the below listed activities are triggered, a Waste Management License is necessary. Quinton explained that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be conducted to ensure the facility does not negatively impact the environment.
- storage of waste
- reuse, recycling and recovery of waste
- treatment of waste
- disposal of waste
- storage, treatment and processing of animal waste
- storage of hazardous waste
- the construction of facilities to undertake the above
General waste is handled by provincial government and hazardous waste, including sewage and electronic waste, is managed by national government. New limitations regarding storage of waste have been passed, which are relevant to organizations storing and treating waste. Operating without a licence is unlawful and a party doing so will be liable for a fine of up to R10 million or 10 years imprisonment.
“All these standards are making it more onerous and difficult to manage waste,” contributed Alison Davison, head of Waste Minimisation of the City of Cape Town. “What is the true cost of our waste?” Alison asked the audience. It is not just the disposal fee; there are many hidden costs of your waste like packaging, energy and water cost, transport cost, storage, labour, company image and time, which all add up to lost profit. It costs six times as much to clean waste than to dispose of it correctly. Cleaning waste costs the City of Cape Town an annual amount of R600 million, which comes from the tax payers’ pockets.
Becoming a zero waste to landfill country
“The way waste is assessed is changing,” said Kirsten Barnes, chairman of WMRIG. The government wants to be stricter and plans to impose restrictions on type and volume of waste going to landfill. Previously the country did not promote waste reduction. However, now regulations turn attention to addressing the first step in the waste management hierarchy, to reduce, by incentivising minimal waste to landfill.
When asked about the increasing landfill fees, Alison responded that it is a “balancing act – on one side you want to push up landfill fees so the public and industries are more incentivised to divert waste. Yet, up them too high, and then you get illegal dumping.”
53% of our waste stream in South Africa is commercial and industrial waste. It is necessary to reduce, reuse or recycle industrial waste. Several organizations have stepped up to help divert waste from landfill to other industries that are able to utilize it as a resource. Integrated Waste Exchange (IWEX) is a web platform that offers online waste exchange between businesses, individuals, industries, schools and many other organizations.
The Western Cape Industrial Symbiosis Programme (WISP) is a GreenCape initiative which offers a free service connecting different industries and commercial entities with available waste items, services, space or resources. The City of Cape Town also has a recycling database on their website, where private recyclers register.
Nick Chapman, plant engineer from Volkswagen South Africa, introduced the topic of industries operating responsibly. Businesses should rise up to “sustainability as the most important challenge”. “Set targets and measure the progress,” whether striving for less energy consumption, water use, waste or emissions. The key is to involve everyone in the business, from the ground staff to the CEO, “and then it happens,” said Nick. It takes effective employee education to get everyone engaged.
Today’s generation must act responsibly so future generations can enjoy living on our planet. We need to drive for better waste management not only in our own households, but in larger industry bodies. Focus on reduction, reuse and recycling to minimize waste to landfill. We need to step up to the waste challenge, or we can be regarded by our grandchildren as the ‘waste generation’.
By Soninke Combrinck