Calls for urgent action to stem the rising tide of waste

7th November 2019 By: Kim Cloete - Creamer Media Correspondent

Some countries are stepping up their use of technology in the way waste is disposed of, although far more needs to be done to sort waste into streams and step up recycling worldwide, the Landfill 2019 conference in Cape Town has heard.

US-based leader within the geosynthetic environmental containment and waste disposal industry, Boyd Ramsey, said the way countries disposed of their waste needed to be radically changed.

He said various new technologies were being used to better dispose of waste throughout the world including geosynthetic materials used in landfills for barrier and draining functions. Drones, global positioning systems and aerial photography were being used to document and manage landfill operations.

Some countries are also making moves to try to stem the rising tide of waste.  A waste sorting plan has been announced in cities across China, with Shanghai becoming the first to implement the plan in July 2019. It is compulsory for residents to separate their household refuse into four types – household food, recyclables, hazardous waste and residual waste. China’s landfills are in danger of reaching capacity in some areas.

In Hong Kong, where Ramsay has been involved in the design and selection of containment systems, some innovative strategies have been introduced. Former landfill sites have been closed and turned into six parks around the city.

Ramsey said some countries, like Australia, were giving grants to companies to reuse materials.

“We need to stop throwing away things that have value. We have to stop throwing away anything we could possibly reuse. It’s really important that the human race do this, because if we don’t, the human race will be extinct,” warned Ramsay.

He showed a video clip of a truckload of plastic being dumped into the Amazon river and said rivers and oceans were being increasingly contaminated and polluted.

However he said some companies, such as BMW, were carving a path towards greater sustainability and increased recycling.  

“In Germany, BMW is designing its cars to be recycled. If you take a BMW to a recycling station in Germany, you get 90% of the materials back out of the car. That’s a hugely important step.”

Ramsey also commended South African company, Kaytech, for turning recycled plastic bottles into geotextile fabric. “We need to do that a thousand more times in hundreds of countries.”

While some of the panelists at the Landfill 2019 conference were not in favour of burning waste, Ramsey said it could work in some cases.

He said France incinerated a large amount of its waste. He said this amounted to 14-million tons in 126 incineration plants across France.

Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA) Western Cape branch chairperson Margo Ladouce said it was important for South Africa to get public–private partnerships going and come up with a mix of solutions, from composting to anaerobic digestion.

She said many people in South Africa were battling to survive and that waste disposal and recycling were not among their priorities.

“We need to constantly remind the broader public about the importance of recycling. We cannot wait for the crisis to be here.”

The Landfill 2019 conference was organised and hosted by the IWMSA Western Cape branch and has brought together practitioners from across the industry.