The recent legislation that bans the dumping of liquid waste at landfill sites in South Africa has been described as the start of a “massive shift” in waste management in the country.
The law, which came into effect on 22 August 2019, was ratified after a six-year transitional period that allowed for the waste industry to put the necessary measures in place in order to comply with the new regulations.
The new regulations have not only put into sharp relief the importance of compliance by waste industry operators, but it has also highlighted the importance of corporate responsibility with regards to waste management.
Moreover, it has also shifted the focus to the greater role that innovation will play in ensuring the environment is protected for future generations.
An overview of waste management legislation in South Africa
Enshrined in South Africa’s Constitution (Chapter 2) is the right of all citizens to environmental protection and the right to live in an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing.
Based on these rights, a raft of waste management legislation exists in South Africa, from national and provincial regulations to municipal by-laws and plans that govern the way waste is managed.
The main piece of legislation is the National Environment Management: Waste Act No.59 of 2008, more commonly known as the Waste Act.
It is based on the principles and provisions contained in the National Environmental Management Act of 1998, which replaced the Environment Conservation Act of 1989, South Africa’s first legal framework document governing the disposal of waste in the country.
The National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) is a legislative requirement of the Waste Act and its sole purpose is to achieve the aims set out in the Waste Act. It was developed to systematically improve the way industry stakeholders manage waste in South Africa.
The strategy notes the fine balance that exists in South Africa between the social and economic development of an unequal society and the need to protect and conserve the country’s natural resources.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
According to the NWMS, “there is a need to eliminate the unnecessary use of raw materials, and the need to support sustainable product design, resource efficiency and waste prevention.”
In other words, to reuse products where possible, and to recover the value of products when they reach the end of their lifespan through recycling, composting or energy recovery.
The needs outlined in the strategy document mirror the aims of Oricol Environmental Services, namely to divert as much waste as possible from landfill by reusing, recycling, recovering and treating an increasing number of complex waste streams brought on by urbanisation and industrialisation.
As CEO Richard Saunders notes: “We are driven by a desire to recycle and turning waste into a resource. It’s part of our culture.”
Waste streams are made even more complex by the mixing of hazardous waste with general waste – a challenge that the new legislation around the disposal of liquid waste will, arguably, go some way to addressing, if correctly implemented and enforced.
South Africa’s waste management legislation is not only aimed at addressing these “top-level” challenges but also has its focus on the challenges that face waste management companies operating in the industry.
Examples of some of these challenges are:
- Costs of waste management are not appreciated by consumers and industry
- Lack of recycling facilities
- Landfill costs are lower than treatment costs
- Too few compliant waste management facilities which hinder the safe disposal of waste streams
Waste management legislation and the waste hierarchy
The NWMS has eight goals, and all have been developed around the waste hierarchy.
The goals of the NWMS are to:
- Promote waste minimisation, reuse, recycling and recovery of waste
- Ensure the effective and efficient delivery of waste services
- Grow the contribution of the waste sector to the green economy
- Ensure that people are aware of the impact of waste on their health, well-being and the environment
- Achieve integrated waste management planning
- Ensure sound budgeting and financial planning for waste services
- Provide measures to remediate contaminated land
- Establish effective compliance with and enforcement of the Waste Act
The waste hierarchy sets the foundation for how waste should be managed in South Africa. From waste avoidance and reduction to reuse, recycling and recovery, and finally treatment and disposal.
The goals mentioned above follow the approach to waste management set out by the waste hierarchy.
According to the NWMS, “all stakeholders must apply the waste management hierarchy in making decisions on how to manage waste.”
Private sector compliance with waste management legislation
FMCG company, Tiger Brands, for example, says it has set targets on reducing waste to landfill (24%) and packaging waste (15%) by 2021, with the aim of “sending zero waste to landfill and to build a culture of waste segregation”.
The company is also proactively working on reducing its packaging, using recycled plastics where possible, investigating the use of biodegradable packaging and replacing non-recyclable materials with recyclable alternatives.
Coca-Cola is another example of a corporate giant stepping up its efforts to collect and recycle PET plastic bottles across Southern and East Africa.
These initiatives are an example of the type of action from the private sector that the NWMS calls for.
The NWMS notes that companies should take responsibility for their products throughout the products’ life cycle; that they must minimise waste generation and establish systems and facilities to take back and recycle waste at the end of their products’ lifecycle, among others.
In the hospitality sector Sun International has set specific goals to achieve zero waste to landfill by as early as next year. Blazing the trail was the Wild Coast Sun. During the course of 2017, the resort generated some 679 tons of waste, and not a single kilogram of it was sent to the landfill.
Waste management companies such as Oricol Environmental Services, which has always regarded waste as a secondary resource, have spent years developing viable and sustainable alternatives to the waste to landfill model.
The company’s resource recovery division provides a complete range of services for the separation, storage and recycling of wastes generated from industrial and commercial clients.
It is well placed to offer these core services, which include hiring waste containers and collection and recovery of waste. Moreover, as technology and treatment methods improve, products that were formerly considered as waste would now be a valuable resource.
In some cases, the waste may be hazardous or harmful to the environment and requires strict attention to safety, compliance and environmental protection.
As it operates within the framework of the waste management hierarchy, Oricol Environmental Services partners with companies to help them comply with licence conditions and regulations and to ensure that the waste they produce is managed according to the waste management hierarchy.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. And as waste management legislation increasingly prioritises environmental concerns over the profits of big business, waste companies will be forced to innovate to stay ahead of their competitors.
Despite being one of the most efficient waste management industries in Africa, there remain massive opportunities for companies to come up with innovative solutions to manage the estimated 42 million cubic metres of waste generated every year, of which some 90% ends up in the landfill.
One of the key ways that waste is being repurposed in South Africa is through waste to energy. And Oricol Environmental Services is leading the way. Since November 2018, the company has been operating an ISO 14001-2015 certified resource recovery facility in Cato Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal.
The facility is permitted to process hazardous solids, liquids and sludges, which includes solvents, oils and oil sludges, paint sludges, solids, acids and bases. Operations at the facility will focus on producing homogeneous fuels from liquid and sludge waste material.
These fuels enable cement producers to substitute a certain amount of coal with this fuel to supply energy to their kilns.
According to the State of Waste report, South Africa has made great improvements in waste recycling, job creation and innovation.
This is due to changes in waste legislation, facilities that focus on the value of waste as a resource and education and public awareness.
Guided not only by the legislation but also driven by its own mission of Turning Waste Into a Resource, Oricol Environmental Services remains committed to providing innovative, sustainable solutions to managing and treating waste as a secondary resource with the aim of ensuring maximum diversion of waste from landfill.
- Oricol Environmental Services offers fully integrated environmental services to the industrial and commercial sectors.
- Contact us to find out how we can help you better manage your industrial waste streams.