The WMRIG Valuing Recycling in Landfill Management conference was recently held at the Stellenbosch University Business School.
The Belville South landfill site is scheduled to close in 2018 or until it rises 35m above the ground level (which ever comes first), this means there is approximately under 5 years of airspace remaining. Coastal Park landfill near Muizenberg is said to be operational until 2022. The site at Visserhok is expanding, having been granted an increase of 18 million cubic metres, equivalent of 6 to 9 years of space. This is more serious than it sounds.
To place it in perspective: we generate 6,399,007.9 tonnes of waste per year in South Africa. This is converted to 181,199,072.5 cubic metres of airspace in a landfill. So the newly acquired ground at Visserhok is a very temporary solution.
Rapid urbanization also places stress on our landfill sites. 9% of total waste to landfill is hazardous, 22% is builders rubble, 21% household packaging and paper, 10% household other, 5% household food, 7% organic trade waste, 6% household greens, 18% other trades and recyclables and 2% greens directly to landfill. The majority of these are potential resources that can be reused.
Opportunities for alternative waste treatment abound. We need a perceptional shift. It is not “waste”, it is a “resource”. So much of the ‘waste’ we generate can be re-sourced to be re-cycled and re-used. But the vastly untapped resource is the organic part, which can be converted to energy. Sewage ends up in our oceans and rivers. This could be fueling anaerobic digesters for power generation and the water recycled and reused for irrigating parks and golf courses.
Looking for the best fit
Barry Coetzee, manager of Technical Strategic Support of the city of Cape Town and speaker at the conference, emphasised that it is “time to transform our resources”. According to Barry, large scale interventions are required, and we need to look wider than local municipalities.
Interventions regarding waste are context specific and many features should be considered. “The best appropriate and sustainable long term solution for man-made waste must be established,” said Coetzee.
The available infrastructure can accommodate certain changes. The type, volume and mass of waste will determine the scale of a project. Large scale projects necessitate synergy with other corporations.
If approached correctly, effective waste management presents a chance to create jobs, to uplift society, to improve infrastructure, create innovative hubs involving the public and private sectors. Coetzee urges the municipal services to act as the enabler, to create opportunities. The private sector needs to fill the roles of the responder, by taking up these chances, and the creator, leading new innovations to develop new markets.
The best way to spur action
The Drakenstein Municipality was represented by Ronald Brown, who shared their take on household waste management. He explained how, as a council, they placed sustainability before financial benefit. Only between R600 and R800 is budgeted per tonne of recyclables collected, thus making the recycled materials disposal system affordable for local residents. This promotes a win-win situation for the people and the environment. By filtering out these recyclables, ¼ of the space has been saved in the local landfills.
With this method of sorting, Drakenstein Municipality have extended the life of their landfill by five years, from 2014 to 2019.
Brown said it was encouraging to see how people want to get involved. Local school and farm projects are roping participation into more efficient waste management. On the other hand, although the services are available, do people utilise them? Only 33.84% of Paarl and 33.53% of Wellington recycle. The gap between services and education must be bridged. “Awareness and communication is critical for success,” said Brown in response to these figures.
People, profit & planet
In 1987 the UN identified three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economy and environmental. It was redefined in 2002 as people, profit, and planet. By combining these three facets a project can have an integrated approach– each dimension needs attention, but without the expense of the other. Peter Silbenagle (pictured below), who was previously president of the South African Association of Consulting Engineers, reminded us that “to be sustainable all three must be incorporated into a business plan.”
All areas need to be assessed before a project has lift off; but the reality is that there are legislative, financial and time constraints. Ideally, social, environmental and economic impact assessments should be done to calculate to what degree each section can be benefited from.
“How can we quantify social and environmental costs? How do we put a value to job creation, social upliftment, and saving an ecosystem? How can we possibly calculate the cost of inertia in the grand scheme of climate change?” were questions prompted by Silbernagl, encouraging the audience of to think in wider terms.
This pressure for alternative waste management presents a breeding ground for innovative ideas and novel thinking. It creates a space that can give rise to new technologies developed to profit both the people and the planet.
By Soninke Combrinck