“South Africa is a leader in waste management in Southern Africa, however, when considering waste management throughout the life cycle, South Africa is about 20 to 30 years behind European countries and other developed countries,” says Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa spokesperson and central branch chairperson Professor Suzan Oelofse.
Providing an overview of the evolution of waste management in South Africa over the past 29 years, Oelofse states that the minimum requirements series of documents developed by the South African government at the dawn of waste regulation in the early 1990s, focused on the protection of the scarce groundwater resources and was based on the precautionary principle.
The graded landfill requirement system developed for South Africa was subsequently adopted by other Southern African countries including Botswana and Namibia.
“The waste management hierarchy was first legislated in South Africa with the inclusion of clause 4(a) (iv) which states that waste is avoided, or where it cannot be altogether avoided, minimised and reused or recycled where possible and otherwise disposed of in a responsible manner in the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998.”
She mentions that, despite this change in paradigm, waste disposal by means of landfill remains the dominant technology choice for general and hazardous waste management in South Africa as is evident from the latest South Africa State of Waste Report that was released in 2018.
It is estimated that South Africa generated about 55.6-million tons of general waste and 52-million tons of hazardous waste in 2017. Of this, only 34.5% of general waste and 6.6% of hazardous waste were recovered or recycled. The remaining 65.2% of general and 92.7% of hazardous waste was disposed of to landfill.
Municipal solid waste (MSW) contributed 23.1-million tons of general waste in 2017 which is, on average 1.12 kg/d per capita. Municipal waste collection services fall within local government’s sphere of responsibility. National statistics indicate that 65.9% of households had access to waste collection services at least once per week in 2017.
However, the remaining 34.1% (5.5-million) households had to rely on their own or communal rubbish dumps or had no facilities at all for waste disposal. This situation amounted to an estimated 7.8-million tons of MSW that was not disposed of on sanitary landfill sites in 2017.