The Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA) says that, because South Africa relies heavily on its natural ecosystems and landscapes for its tourism sector, it is incredibly important that the country’s waste management sector adopts the best and latest technology to avoid irreversible ecosystem damage resulting from waste.
The organisation states that waste and its afterlife is one of the greatest environmental challenges currently and that, when waste is not recycled, repurposed or treated, it can have devastating environmental impacts on the environment.
IWMSA president Brendon Jewaskiewitz says that, according to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, South Africa sends about 98-million tonnes of waste to 826 landfills across the country, every year.
“It is no secret that we are still very reliant on landfill and while this remains the case, we should be focusing on enhancing the engineering, technology and environmental management at landfill sites,” he says.
Jewaskiewitz adds that while South Africa looks into ways to improve landfill operations, associated organisations should also be looking at alternative waste treatment (AWT) technologies to divert waste streams from landfill.
AWT refers to the adoption of different technologies that divert waste material which contrasts with the older, conventional linear model of straightforward disposal to landfill.
“Landfill operators have been under pressure with issues such as the availability of remaining airspace, compliance with recently introduced regulations and licences to extend landfill sites,” he says.
Adopting AWT technology, Jewaskiewitz says, will take the pressure off landfill operators, and will ultimately be better for the environment.
With AWT, the ultimate goal is to significantly reduce the volumes of waste going to landfill and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with disposal - mainly landfill emissions, he states.
However, Jewaskiewitz notes that AWT solutions and technology must also be environmentally acceptable in their own right.
AWT IN SOUTH AFRICA
Current examples of AWT technologies in South Africa include mechanical biological treatment for the production of refuse-derived fuel and composting and anaerobic digestion for the generation of electricity, which are also known as waste-to-energy plants.
While there is a significant interest in the future development of AWT in South Africa, about 80% to 90% of domestic waste still goes to landfill, according to the IWMSA.
As such, the organisation suggests South Africa is about 20 to 30 years behind most developed countries regarding the adoption of AWT, and the management of waste in general when compared with most first world countries.
One of the problems with transitioning to AWT is the fact that the disposal of waste to landfill is generally still the most cost-effective option for the waste generators, according to the IWMSA.
In this regard, he says the challenge faced by the waste sector is getting these projects implemented with confidence in their economic feasibility over a sustained period of time.
“At this stage, we need to explore better collaborative opportunities across organisations and with government to jointly support AWT projects across South Africa,” notes Jewaskiewitz.
He explains that the ultimate goal of AWT is to prevent and mitigate the environmental impacts that South Arica has experienced from conventional waste management, specifically with landfill.
“When we talk about mitigating environmental impacts, we need to include AWT in the conversation,” states Jewaskiewitz.
Meanwhile, the IWMSA will be hosting the Landfill and Waste Treatment Exhibition and Seminar from November 3 to 5, which will bring the landfill and AWT industries together to learn about the latest technologies and developments within the waste management sector.