South Africa has a new law, to manage the disposal of liquid refuse at landfills, but Johannesburg municipal waste management service provider Pikitup acknowledges that it is having difficulty getting its officials to implement the regulations, although they have been in effect since August.
Pikitup says, too, that households appear to not know that liquids with a high calorific value — such as hydrogen, ammonia and diesel fuel — must no longer be added to their waste disposal. Instead, households are responsible for taking their liquid waste directly to special landfills.
But Pikitup acknowledges that it too has failed to comply with new legislation. This follows a visit by the Mail & Guardian in October to its Robinson Deep landfill site in Booysens, southern Johannesburg, where waste picker — or city reclaimer, as he calls himself — Andrew Leballo* told the M&G that management at the site had not pushed for compliance.
Rather than refuse the liquid waste, they just cover it up, he said. “The waste is compacted by a machine covering it up. The management knows that the waste enters the landfill but they don’t do anything about it. They don’t have a place to dump it and they take it as solid waste,” he said.
Leballo is one of an estimated 62 000 waste pickers nationally who earn about R200 a day from the sale of the waste they have collected. They save municipalities up to R750-million in landfill costs each year, according to the department of environment, forestry and fisheries.
After sorting their recyclables (plastic, cardboard, paper, aluminium cans and the like), the workers push their heavy cargo and make their way to the nearest landfill sites in the city where they sell their goods. Many take their goods to Robinson Deep, one of the oldest sites in the city.
The new legislation — the Waste Classification and Management Regulations and the associated Norms and Standards for Waste Disposal in Landfills, which are part of the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Act, of 2014 — came into effect in August this year. It aims to manage the disposal and control of hazardous and wet waste to reduce environmental contamination from landfills, said the managing director of waste management company Averda South Africa, Johan van den Berg.
“Materials classified as wet waste in the Waste Classification and Management Regulations not only include food, but oils and fats for cooking, paint, wet building site waste, hazardous materials, wet factory waste, flowers and vehicle oils,” he said. Under the amendments, waste that can seep into the ground must be treated “to prevent possible contamination of the environment”. Once treated, the material must be disposed of in suitable special purpose landfills, said Van der Berg.
Photo and video evidence taken last month and seen by the M&G, shows that Robinson Deep continues to collect wet waste and is ignoring the requirements of the new legislation. The materials in photos supplied to the M&G include soil, oily debris, spoilt fruit and vegetable waste. One video shows a truck offloading unsorted wet material while waste pickers rummage through the waste, trying to find recyclable materials that can be resold.
Pikitup spokesperson Muzi Mkhwanazi said officials at its landfill sites in the city have been briefed about the new legislation and have been instructed not to accept such waste. He said that customers, both households and businesses, are also advised to use private landfill sites that have pretreatment technologies for hazardous waste. Businesses and households are able to use Pikitup trucks to dispose of the waste but they “will have to pay”.
“Furthermore, Pikitup has put in place appropriate access control measures, which include security personnel and weighbridge cameras to monitor waste entering the landfill to curb the disposal of the restricted waste stream at landfill sites,” he said.
To accommodate the new law on liquid or sludge waste, the chairperson of the African Reclaimers Organisation, Eva Mokoena, said the City of Johannesburg has developed a landfill site in Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria, where the materials can be safely disposed of. But Mokoena says that most members of the Johannesburg-based, 3 500-strong waste-picker organisation cannot make the trip to Bronkhorstspruit because of transport constraints.
Mokoena accuses Pikitup of being unresponsive to the organisation’s calls to provide transport for its members to dispose of hazardous materials as per the new legislation. “Our problem is that we don’t have transport. The municipality doesn’t want to come on board. We can go and collect all the wet and liquid waste in the city like we’ve always done before. We can do it ourselves as long as we have transport,” she told the M&G.
“They [Pikitup] don’t bother themselves with us because they don’t see a way that they can benefit from collaborating with us,” she said.
The city has disputed claims that it has shunned the waste pickers, saying that it sees the workers as “important stakeholders in the waste management value chain”.
“The city has started a registration drive, which aims to create a database of waste pickers, to be used for future planning purposes,” Mkhwanazi said.
Environment, forestry and fisheries department spokesperson Albi Modise said waste generators and landfill operators are jointly responsible for complying with the new legislation. Modise said that the department had conducted an “extensive consultation” with the private sectors and other role players before the publication of the amended legislation in 2013.
Business and other stakeholders had a six-year transition period to prepare for the implementation of the new norms and standards, which came into effect only this year.
“The waste generator will need to find alternative waste management options like composting, biodigestion, effluent treatment, recycling and reuse as per requirement of the Waste Act before disposing of such waste,” Modise said. “With regard to households, municipalities collect all waste from households, which rarely dispose of significant volumes of liquid wastes, hence households are not impacted by this prohibition.
*Not his real name.
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian