Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy says South Africa has aligned policy and strategy with the circular economy concept.
This follows shortly after Cabinet's approval of the National Waste Management Strategy 2020 (NWMS).
For many countries, she says, placing their economies on a more sustainable growth path is central to the strategies of economic recovery from Covid-19 disruptions.
“South Africa has also realised that green industries can open up new possibilities for development and assist in creating much needed jobs,” the Minister notes.
As such, Creecy says the domestic waste management sector has strong potential to innovate and improve socioeconomic conditions and contribute to sustainable development and resource use.
The NWMS is aimed at promoting the waste hierarchy and circular economy principles, while achieving both socioeconomic benefits and the reduction of negative environmental impacts, she says.
“Key to this are the three pillars of the [NWMS], which are promoting waste minimisation, efficient and effective waste services and awareness raising, compliance monitoring and enforcement.”
Creecy notes that the NWMS builds on the successes and lessons learnt from the implementation of a 2011 strategy, with the NWMS providing government policy and strategic interventions for the waste sector and being aligned and responsive to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Agenda 2030 adopted by all United Nations (UN) member States.
She points out that the NWMS is also aligned and consistent with South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP): Vision 2030 which is South Africa’s specific response to, and integration of the SDGs into the country’s overall socioeconomic development plans.
The approval of the NWMS brings about significant strategic shifts from the 2011 strategy, including addressing the role of waste pickers and the informal sector in the circular economy and promoting approaches to the design of products and packaging that reduce waste or encourage reuse, repair and preparation for recycling. The new NWMS also supports markets for source-separated recyclables.
The NWMS also deviates from the previous strategy in that it investigates potential regulatory or economic interventions to increase participation rates in residential separation at source programmes and promotes investing in the economies associated with transporting of recyclables to waste processing facilities.
In addition, Creecy says the NWMS serves to address the skills gap within the sector, as well as promote engagement with the National Treasury regarding the operational expenditures for municipalities associated with implementing the NWMS and Waste Act.
Further, she says that, this year alone, the department has embarked on an extensive consultation process to initiate extended producer responsibility (EPR) for various products, including paper and packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, and lighting.
In this regard, the Minister notes that the EPR gives effect to Section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act, 2008 and also “charts the new approach to the management of waste in South Africa”.
She says this will make a significant contribution in the diversion of waste from landfilling, thereby increasing the recycling rate to achieve the objectives of the NWMS.
“This programme will ensure that waste pickers are fully integrated in the recycling value chain.”
Creecy highlights that the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has also taken strides by ensuring the necessary product design changes that embrace circularity for the manufacturing of plastic carrier bags.
“We have received extensive comments on the amendments of the plastic carrier bags regulations, and I am pleased that we are moving in the right direction to prevent and manage plastic pollution.”
Meanwhile, other initiatives that she hopes will promote the circular economy include the exclusion regulations that recognise material that can be used for beneficiation purposes without requiring a waste licence.
As such, Creecy says the department has approved 48 applications for the beneficial use of several waste materials. This, she says, will unblock obstacles and promote the full implementation of the waste management hierarchy.
“We are continuing with the implementation of programmes such as the Recycling Enterprise Support Programme, and Chemicals and Waste Economy Phakisa initiatives that contribute to job creation while diverting waste away from landfill.”
Creecy adds that the department is also taking time to rethink and reimagine how these programmes can further enhance the demand for waste materials to “close the loop”, thereby creating a circular economy.