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Africa|Botswana|Building|Business|Construction|Design|Electrical|Innovation|Lighting|Packaging|Paper|Projects|Resources|Services|Systems|Waste|Waste Management|Equipment|Packaging|Products|Environmental|Waste
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Waste industry can mitigate unemployment

6th October 2023

By: Bridget Lepere

Creamer Media Reporter

     

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South Africa needs more companies to implement effective waste management systems and principles in their value chains to effect a more circular economy. The country needs a focus on waste beneficiation, looking beyond to products’ next life and the viable use of recycled resources, states green economy business consultancy ToMa Now founder and CEO Dr Jaisheila Rajput.

Certain socioeconomic issues, such as job creation, can be addressed through a waste economy, particularly from an environmental perspective, she notes, adding that the country has opportunities to develop the waste sector worth more than R18-billion, according to the South African Waste Pickers Association (Sawpa).

However, financing and planning must take place collaboratively amongst key stakeholders and role players, and not be left to extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes currently being developed.

Rajput reiterates that the waste sector is not only about municipalities or producers. There are a significant number of waste pickers – Sawpa estimates there to be more than 90 000 – that must be considered, with the large informal waste sector needing to be incorporated in the sector’s future plans.

The role of waste pickers in supporting the zero-waste-to-landfill effort needs to be acknowledged and government should harness their support to develop the waste sector more holistically, from waste collection, beneficiation through to product development and innovation.

“Around 2020, we did work in Motherwell, in Gqeberha, where we were supporting waste recyclers in the local community with the development of an environmental hub. The environmental hub focuses on education, recycling, and making goods out of recycled content. We supported them in developing effective business plans, including a focus on improving the collection of recyclables.

In so doing, we realised opportunities in initiatives such as buy-back centres, which has had a huge environmental and social impact,” she adds.

Trends and Developments

EPR regulations have become mandatory in South Africa, holding producers accountable for their goods and waste produced.

The roll-out of the regulation has started in the paper and packaging, lighting, electrical, and electronic equipment industries. The legislation is also applicable to products, such as portable batteries, lubricants, oils and pesticides, to effectively divert them from landfills.  

Rajput emphasises that the EPR regulations' diversion of waste stands to open the door to other opportunities in the sector.

She notes that, while recycling is becoming more commonplace, reuse should take precedence in pushing sectors in the direction of the circular economy, with a stronger focus on beneficiation, which is “the gateway necessary for the circular economy”.

Moreover, while capacity building along the recycling and reuse value chain is in the early stages for some materials, it will reach the stage where producers design products from recyclables, as well as for with their next life in mind.

The current focus is at the post-consumer stage, owing to the current plastic waste crisis globally, adds Rajput.

“The design of the packaging of a pouch, for example, can be made from a multilayer laminated plastic.  This makes it difficult to recycle and is something that should be reconsidered.”

She laments that often a bottle with a shrink sleeve that protects household detergents, is made using different polymers; therefore, different methods must be applied in terms of recycling, owing to the elaborate process involved in processing various polymer materials during the recycling process.

However, the types of polymers used in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, for example, are recycled and can be used to create polyester fibres for the textile industry, with more clothing brands using recycled content in their goods.

“A number of exciting developments are taking place in the construction industry in South Africa and across Africa, where different types of recycled materials, plastics included, are used to make building materials,” she enthuses, noting that more local industries are “now moving into a circular mindset”.

Further, as governments tend to be the biggest procurers of construction services, the waste sector has an opportunity to “step up its game” in terms of advocating through green procurement policies to allow recycled materials to be more readily used.

Projects

ToMa-Now developed and completed a waste management roadmap and business plan for the Botswana government from March to June 2023, laying out key areas for systemic intervention.

The roadmap and business plan used data to equip government with the tools and an action plan to make clear decisions, and meet targets towards building circularity into its waste landscape, says Rajput.

The business plan helped to harness the value of waste, with the focus on beneficiation and unlocking economic benefits and, consequently, creating jobs and innovation opportunities, she adds.

ToMa-Now also completed a situational analysis, as well as strategy and action plan, for the Western Cape government’s household electrical and electronic goods sector, to repair and refurbish electronic and electrical equipment, which, when given another life, through refurbishment, is diverted from landfills, supporting EPR legislation and creating economic benefits while keeping resources in use for much longer.

From a governmental perspective, South Africa “is taking waste management issues seriously”, is on “the right path to turning the tide” and is performing well compared to its peers in sub-Saharan Africa, despite the majority of the country’s landfill sites having reached capacity, Rajput concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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