Jo'burg waste recycler runs into trouble

A waste-recycling plant in Johannesburg—described as a danger to the health of employees and the environment—was ordered on Thursday to comply with new regulations or face closure.

“You are in deep trouble. My advice to you is no smart talk,” said Gauteng’s environment minister, Khabisa Mosunkutu, addressing managers of SA Waste in Marlboro, Johannesburg.

His visit was in response to complaints from the public over pollution caused by the recycling plant. Mountains of waste product filled the industrial plot one street away from the Alexandra residential area.

Mosunkutu handed over a writ demanding the company conform to new regulations or be closed.

“I am keen to shut you down until changes have been made,” he warned.

More than 50 women could be seen working knee-deep in refuse, sorting that which is recyclable while also looking for groceries—expired vegetables and a vacuum-packed chicken.

“Just because there is no work and huge unemployment does not mean they [the women] must be treated like animals,” said Mosunkutu, giving SA Waste 48 hours to respond to allegations of running an illegal operation.

The document handed to managers listed seven contraventions.
Among them: waste on the premises was not limited to dry recyclable materials, such as beverage containers and paper, as agreed; and general waste, such as food, gave rise to bad odours.

Frances Craigee, deputy director for the Gauteng department of agriculture, conservation and environment, said not only is waste food being discarded at the recycle plant, it has also been alleged that used medical supplies have been found.

Melissa Fourie from the enforcement division of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism said the place is hazardous to humans and the environment.

Seepage from the site is polluting underground water, and strong smells are upsetting local nostrils.

“And the women working here are not equipped with any safety gear and don’t even have gloves,” she said.

Acting for the newly established environmental affairs inspectorate, Fourie said that the company is one of a number that have attracted the attention of the “Green Scorpions”.

She said the company was spotted from the air and photographs were taken in a special operation.

SA Waste director Herman Ackermann acknowledged that his company is in the wrong and agreed that it is good to see the government being concerned about the environment.

“We know we are not operating this facility along the principles that we should,” Ackermann said.

He said over the past six months a backlog has developed in processing the waste, which has resulted in the “undesirable situation” developing.

Ackermann said sustainable recycling in South Africa is proving difficult, but that his company has survived 14 years and hopes the problem can be rectified.

He said he will “most definitely” respond to the provincial minister’s ultimatum.—Sapa

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