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Western Cape’s Organics’ Ban to Landfills

ORASA (The Organics Recycling Association of South Africa) is an organization that represents the organic waste recycling industry in South Africa and aims to promote the growth of the organics recycling market. On the 19th of June 2018, ORASA facilitated a conference at Tygerberg Nature Reserve in Cape Town titled: “Organic Waste Landfill Ban – Opportunity for economic growth in the organic recycling industry”.

The focal point of this conference was to create awareness around the recent organic waste to landfill ban in the Western Cape, which aims to halve the amount of organic waste to Landfill by 2022, with the target of 100% diversion by 2027. This ban has so far received very little media attention despite the impacts it will have in both the private and public sectors. The conference engaged representatives from The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), as well as multiple organic waste and recycling businesses in the province. Presentations by Eddie Hanekom of the DEA, Melanie Ludwig from Zero to Landfill Organics, Tyron Hartle from Interwaste and Berenice Westmore from Postwink Recycling Solutions, helped to highlight the complexity of the “waste problem” in the province, but also its potential to contribute towards sustainable economic growth.

Waste mismanagement is fast becoming a global problem. As populations boom and consumption of goods skyrockets, ‘what to do with all our waste?’ is a question that requires urgent attention. The vast majority of our waste still ends up at the Landfill. Landfills are huge dumps where waste is buried underground as a means of permanent disposal. Landfills are not just sore on the eyes, but they pose a number of potential risks to people and to the environment in which we live. When waste decomposes beneath the ground and is devoid of oxygen, it breaks down anaerobically and emits large amounts of methane – a Greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than Carbon Dioxide (CO2)- into the atmosphere. What is more, many of the materials that end up as waste contain toxic substances such as mercury, solvents and lead, which eventually leach into our soil and groundwater, posing significant environmental health risks. As a result, landfills are increasingly coming under public scrutiny as an unsustainable and harmful method of waste management.

The irony is that waste is simply a resource that is in the wrong place. Through recycling, reusing and up-cycling, all manner of waste items can be transformed into new and valuable products. Rather than simply burying million tons of waste a year, reusing waste feeds into the natural cycle of energy regeneration and should be seen as an important step toward achieving more sustainable development practices.

In the Western Cape province, landfills are rapidly filling up and new potential sites are in short supply. As of the DEDAT 2016 baseline study, 7.7 million tonnes of waste were produced in the Western Cape, more than half of which were generated in the City of Cape Town alone. To add, less than half of the Western Capes landfills are operational and 60% of those facilities that are, require major improvements (Groundup, 2018). The current waste management infrastructure simply cannot keep up with the rising quantities of waste in the province.

In response to this ‘waste problem’, the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs (WCDEA) recently announced a 100% ban on organic waste to landfill by 2027, with a half-way target of 50% by 2022. In order to speed up the often lengthy legislative process, the WC DEA has made the decision to write the new ordinance into waste management licenses. Therefore, existing waste disposal facilities, and new applicants alike, will have to start reducing their intake of organic waste in order to comply. The diversion plan will require municipalities to set annual targets and identify procedures to meet those targets.

The ban will put pressure on waste management companies and the municipality to better manage organic waste, and will assure that all organic waste in the province gets diverted away from landfill. Despite the potential for growing pains, the decision is a step in the right direction toward more sustainable use of resources, and lightens the load on the remaining landfill sites still in operation. Hopefully the ban will lead to further developments in South Africa’s waste sector and encourage more sustainable waste management practices in the future.

According to GreenCape’s 2016 Market Intelligence report, out of the total 7.7 million tonnes of waste produced annually in the Western Cape, 2.9 million is Organic waste. Organic waste thus makes up a huge 37% of all the waste produced in the Western Cape. This waste stream includes food waste, animal waste, paper and wood clippings; basically, anything that is naturally biodegradable. However this organic ‘waste’ is actually a valuable resource. It can be used to produce compost, animal feed, biogas and in certain cases, edible food can be reused. In this way, organic waste can be reused into valuable products, maintain the natural system of regeneration and, in turn, reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

A number of organic waste management companies already process significant amounts of organic waste in Cape Town. Zero-to-Landfill Organics (ZTL) run a composting facility in Phillipi that turns various kinds of organic waste into nutrient rich compost. Another organic waste company, AgriProtein, uses fly larvae to digest organic waste and turn it into high quality animal feed. Other facilities are breaking down food waste from our kitchens and supermarkets using anaerobic digestion to produce bio-fuels. These industries are set to expand and diversify as the increasing supply of organic waste in the Western Cape can no longer go to landfills.

Based on GreenCape’s 2016 findings, the capacity of the prominent organic waste solutions in the Western Cape will increase by an estimated 267% in the next five years, which equates to an estimated 35% of all current organic waste. These figures however leave a lot of room to expand the capacity of current operations and set up new facilities in order to meet the demands of the 2027 target.

And yet, more solutions and innovative ideas are needed in order to solve the waste crisis in the province, and beyond. While organic waste management facilities can continue to find different ways of obtaining and processing organic waste, effective separation of waste at source is a great way to make the recycling process more efficient. For example, many organic waste facilities cannot process organic waste if it is mixed with non-organic waste, such as plastic packaging, and vice versa. Thus municipalities and the private sector should initiate separation at source systems that efficiently separate waste for more effective recycling. Ultimately, it is up to citizen participation in recycling both their organic and their dry recyclables, that will have the greatest impact. Thus, it should be a priority to inform and engage the public about the importance of sustainable waste management practices – including waste reduction, waste separation and home composting – and why it is more important than ever to “reuse, reduce and recycle”.

In summary, the ban is a positive step towards more sustainable waste management practices that aim to see the landfill as the least desirable option. Investment in alternative waste treatment technologies is an important step towards more sustainable use of our resources. The growth of the “green” waste industry holds significant job creation potential and aligns with the countries’ commitments to sustainable development and a growing green economy. While the ban comes with its associated challenges, it sets a positive example for authorities all over South Africa, and beyond. In order to meet the 2027 target, there will need to be significant planning and coordination from all the relevant authorities. Moreover, the public should be made aware of the ban, and what they can do about it, because ultimately, sustainablitity can not be achieved without public participation.

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