As a municipality, you have a constitutional responsibility to collect, transport and dispose of waste. This also gives you a great opportunity to do something alternative with the different types of materials in your waste stream.
Waste contains many materials that can be recovered for re-use and recycling and it is also a valuable source of energy. A large proportion of recoverable waste is still going to waste disposal facilities. It is far more beneficial to recover the materials and energy and so get the most value out of this resource [DST-CSIR][GreenCape].
The vision of South Africa’s Waste Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap [DST-CSIR] is to stimulate technological and non-technological waste innovation, waste research and development, and human capital development to move towards a secondary resources economy which increasingly diverts waste from disposal sites towards value-adding opportunities that have economic, social and environmental benefits.
The National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) and National Climate Change Response (NCCR) Policy are among the key drivers for change.
There are important environmental, economic and social requirements that must be met: South Africa’s new generation legal framework promotes treatment options that get more value out of waste, mitigate climate change, generate more employment opportunities and promote more sustainable living.
Alternative waste treatment is being driven by regulations that are placing increasing restrictions on certain materials going to waste disposal facilities and, in the case of municipalities, pressure because of diminishing landfill airspace, among other factors.
The regulatory drivers for alternative waste treatment options are highlighted throughout this web guide.
When organic wastes are burned or biodegrade in a waste disposal facility adverse environmental impacts result from greenhouse gases (GHGs), carbon dioxide and methane, which are emitted from the rotting waste and then contribute to climate change.
South Africa is highly vulnerable and exposed to the impacts of climate variability due to our vulnerable socio-economic and environmental context [..]. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, prolonged droughts and sudden excessive rains, food and economic insecurity and loss of biodiversity affect poor, informal and rural subsistence communities much more than those with more resources and resilience. We must urgently strengthen the resilience of our society and economy to such climate change impacts by means of measures, mechanisms and infrastructure to protect the most vulnerable.
Minimising waste will achieve both climate change mitigation and waste management goals by reducing our GHG emissions from the landfilling of waste as well as by recovering resources and materials to be put back into the economy. A GHG emissions calculator can be found here. Waste minimisation also leads to overall cost savings from reduced use of materials and reduced waste disposal costs.
This order of priority is called the ‘hierarchy of waste management’ (Figure 1.)
The National Waste Management Strategy (2011) introduced the concept of the ‘waste management hierarchy’, with the purpose of changing people’s mindset from the traditional approach to waste management, where most waste is landfilled, to options that not only conserve natural resources but also save landfill space. The waste management hierarchy consists of options for waste management during the lifecycle of waste, arranged in descending order of priority. The best or most favoured option is to avoid or reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place. The next steps in order of importance are to re-use, to recycle or compost, to recover energy, and finally to dispose. You should always try to separate recyclable or reusable materials as close to where they are first thrown away (separation at source) so that they do not lose value by being contaminated by other wastes.
This approach will contribute to service delivery, creation of economic opportunities, achievement of environmental goals, and improvement of quality of life. Changing the way you manage waste does not necessarily mean using very complex or expensive technology. You may need to combine management systems and appropriate technologies to achieve a sustainable solution.
Figure 1: The hierarchy of waste management