The over-burdened landfills pose a challenge to the waste management industry to find innovative ways to ramp up environmentally sustainable ways of dealing with waste.
According to a 2021 report on recycling of waste and scrap in South Africa, South Africa generates 108 million tons of waste per year, 90% of which is disposed at landfills that are rapidly filling up.
The riots and looting that occurred in July 2021 added more pressure on landfills in Kwa-Zulu Natal following unprecedented amount of waste generated by the wave of riots that swept across that province and in Gauteng. There is a scarcity of landfill sites throughout the country and land to build new ones is difficult to come by.
“At best, landfill sites have a life expectancy of up to 15 years. However, due to rapid urbanisation and the lacklustre recycling culture in South Africa, there is more waste finding its way to the landfills which reduces the lifespan of these facilities. This means that land acquisition for new landfill sites will increase, while existing landfill sites will be compelled to incinerate higher volumes of waste, which poses a threat to environmental sustainability,” says Khanyiso Myataza, Sales Director for Integrated Solutions at Servest.
With this in mind, residents and businesses alike have a responsibility to dispose of their waste responsibly. Companies may be subject to significant fines if they fail to comply.
Myataza says that if a company is found guilty of non-compliant waste management regimes it will face exorbitant fines. As a result, organisations will be expected to have sustainable waste management systems in place which will have to be closely monitored in the future and reported on.
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, South Africa has more than 60 000 waste pickers who play a substantial role in the waste management industry of the country.
Their operations were adversely affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the lockdowns last year and earlier this year. The research found that those employed in the informal waste management industry were the worst affected.
“To begin with, much of South Africa’s waste is exported to China. The recycling market rates dropped significantly as a result of the Covid-19 regulations, which resulted in a halt to product exports as well as travel bans, forcing businesses to scale back, retrench, and in some cases to close down,” he said.
“For low-income households, waste collection is the quickest way to earn a living. The number of waste collectors has risen in tandem with the rise in unemployment. This is a positive development, but due to export restrictions, the waste management and recycling industry has been severely harmed, and secondary waste collectors are unable to handle the volumes of waste collected by primary collectors,” Myataza added.
Facilities management companies play an important role in creating a conducive environment for effective waste management as well as in developing and fostering long-term waste management programmes and initiatives.
“Facilities management companies can effectively develop and implement ‘separation at source’ and ’zero waste to landfill’ on behalf of their clients, without the latter incurring any additional operational costs,” says Myataza.
In the last 18 months, remote working has gained traction as lockdown restrictions required minimising physical contact. Remote working has had unintended consequences on waste management efforts.
“Working remotely has contributed in some way to waste management negligence. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we consumers have not familiarised ourselves with effective waste management systems, and we continue to underestimate the magnitude of the waste we produce. Our attitude towards effective waste management practices has led to more waste being disposed of at landfills,” says Myataza.
Another trend that has emerged has been a push towards reducing waste generation, which has seen widespread adoption among businesses, households, and schools. The Circular Economy is also gaining popularity among manufacturers and consumers.
“The use of disposable PPE and increased consumption of fast foods were the biggest contributors of waste during the pandemic, and because the majority of recycling companies were closed, waste pickers were unable to trade the waste they collected for cash,” Myataza explained.
While corporates, some more than others, produce the most waste compared to domestic households, they also carry the greatest responsibility for ensuring effective waste management practices. Individuals can also play a vital role in ensuring responsible behaviour and environmental protection.
“Our waste management education systems need to be improved. Short-term campaigns to raise awareness about the current state of the environment are insufficient. Waste collection systems must also be improved, and citizens must be encouraged to separate waste from the source within their households. It is more efficient for waste collection trucks to collect waste that has already been sorted rather than waste that has not been separated,” Myataza concluded.