- Government wants to look into pricing waste to encourage more recycling, says Minister Barbara Creecy.
- Over 1.5 million tonnes of paper and packing was diverted from landfills last year through a new scheme, says Creecy.
- In the past two years the department has spent R168 million to assist 58 municipalities in purchasing waste collection fleets.
- For climate change news and analysis, go to News24 Climate Future.
Government wants to look into the pricing of waste, to divert it from landfills and encourage more recycling, says Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.
The minister on Friday, 19 May, tabled her department’s R9.8 billion budget in Parliament.
Among the priority areas is waste management. Over the past two years, the department had spent over R168 million to assist 58 municipalities in purchasing waste collection fleets, Creecy said.
Her department has also identified the top 40 landfills – in terms of waste volumes – and will work with municipalities to improve compliance at these sites.
Government has banned certain waste types from landfills because of their environmental impact. This includes liquids and hazardous waste.
“We have identified the top 40 landfills in the country in terms of waste volumes. We want to make sure those top 40 landfills have better compliance,” Creecy said in an interview with News24.
Additionally, government is looking at the pricing of waste. “We do not see as much recycling as we want to see, because it is much cheaper to dump waste,” Creecy said.
“If we look at the pricing of landfilling, and make some interventions there, we could probably see a situation where there would be greater appetite and greater interest in increasing recycling,” Creecy added.
Her department is working with provincial governments and also has plans to crowd in private sector investment in endeavours to improve waste management.
During the parliamentary debate of her budget, Creecy said one of the projects government is considering is the City of Johannesburg’s potential conversion of waste to energy.
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Kate Stubbs, marketing director at waste management company Interwaste, said that on average, in South Africa, the disposal of general waste to landfills ranges from R300 to R600 per metric tonne (1 000kg) depending on the province where the disposal facility or landfill is located.
Stubbs explained it is difficult to do an exact comparison of the cost of recycling materials, against the general disposal of waste to a landfill. This is because recycling different waste types attracts different costs – and rebates (for avoiding landfills).
When considering the commercial sustainability and viability of any alternative waste solution to landfill disposal, numerous factors should be considered. This includes the waste type, quality, quantity, regulatory requirements, sorting, collection, transportation, handling, treatment and or disposal costs or a rebate, said Stubbs.
Waste like paper, cardboard, glass, cans, and certain plastics already have established recycling markets, she noted. For example, paper can be diverted to paper pulp manufacturers, glass to bottle manufacturers and aluminium cans to smelters.
“Even though these value chains exist, the rebate rates on the recycled materials still fluctuate according to supply and demand and often, global changes,” Stubbs said.
Not just about pricing
Stubbs noted that in more developed countries, the success of their recycling also depends on other strategies besides pricing. This includes “widespread education” and raising awareness and understanding of managing waste effectively.
Creecy noted that government is working on having public education on littering and waste management. “We are very concerned with the extent of illegal dumping in our country, and also environmental pollution, particularly the leaching of plastics from the environment into the sea,” she said.
Interventions should include having different wastes separated at the source, said Stubbs. This means having different bins for different wastes like food or organic material, paper, plastic, tins and glass. Generally in South Africa, waste gets sorted by waste pickers.
It’s also important to have the required services, infrastructure and systems to support recycling – by households and industries, Stubbs said.
Landfill taxes of as much as R2 000 per tonne in European countries also makes it more costly to dispose of waste this way.
Other important strategies include having government subsidies or incentives for recycling programmes, and prohibiting certain waste types at landfills.
These waste shoots in Nordhavn, Denmark, collect waste from residential areas and then are diverted through pipes to different collection points based on waste type.
News24 Lameez Omarjee
Stubbs notes that with less space in landfills, more regulations and prohibitions on waste types that can be disposed of at landfills and potential increased costs for landfill disposals would drive a shift toward recycling or reuse and repurposing of waste.
Government, in 2021, introduced the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme – which means producers need to limit the waste of the products they produce that end up in the environment. For example, this could be paper, packaging, glass, metal and e-waste. Producers have to take steps to reclaim or recycle these materials to avoid them ending up in the environment.
According to Creecy, due to this scheme, paper and packaging, electrical, electronic and lighting sectors have started diverting waste from landfill sites.
READ | South Africa’s waste problem can be an energy solution
“Last year over 1.5 million tonnes of paper and packing was diverted from landfill through recycling, recovery, and treatment. Nearly 19 000 tonnes of e-waste was diverted from landfills over the same period,” Creecy told Parliament.
Creecy noted this isn’t enough – but given that last year was the first year of the scheme’s functioning, the uptake has been good.
Stubbs said that the EPR scheme is creating a shift in how certain waste streams are being managed.
“We envisage seeing a further increase in waste recycling as these systems are implemented and mature,” said Stubbs.
Generally, paper, tins and glass are recycled as a resource into manufacturing processes. But the individual company can also advise on the final destination of the waste, said Stubbs. For example, organic waste is often recycled or repurposed into biogas plants for energy or to create compost.
While South Africa has a range of waste regulations, waste classification requirements and prohibitions at landfill sites, the EPR scheme and an overarching national waste management strategy – the key is consistency in implementing and applying these regulations across the board, said Stubbs.