Down in the dumps: we're in danger of trashing our future
If we don't recycle and separate waste at source we're going to be in big trouble, experts warn
South Africans are dumping waste worth as much as R17bn worth every year – and we are running out of landfill.
Despite this, SA still fares well compared with the world’s top recyclers, said Sibongile Gumbi, a master’s student in environmental studies at the Durban University of Technology. She presented her research at the annual WasteCon conference hosted by the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa last week.
Gumbi compared SA with Germany, Denmark, the US and Japan. “The more economically prosperous a country is, the more waste is generated per capita. Developing countries produce municipal waste ranging between 0.45kg and 0.95kg [per person per day]. These trends are expected to double within the next 15 years.”
Gumbi’s research found that Japan is the biggest recycler, repurposing 84% of its municipal waste, followed by Germany at 59%, Denmark 37% and then the US at 34.1%.
SA recycles 34% of its waste annually, well above Europe’s overall rate of 31.1%. But Kate Stubbs, director of business development and marketing at private waste management company Interwaste, said there was room for improvement.
“From a figures perspective, SA has the potential to recycle more than 6.9m tons each year, bringing the current 34% up to at least 65%.”
The Department of Environmental Affairs reported in May that 98m tons of waste is dumped in SA’s 826 landfill sites each year. It said a significant amount of recyclable waste was still going to landfill. Just 7% of the 38m tons of hazardous waste was reused or recycled.
Earlier this year, the Western Cape environmental affairs department warned that the province could be headed for a waste crisis.
According to Pikitup, Joburg dumping sites will reach capacity within five years if residents do not start recycling and separating their waste at the source.
Stubbs said the benefits of recycling went beyond helping the environment. “It has an innate ability to create jobs. If we look at the waste pickers sector for example, which is on the increase, it plays a key role in SA’s recycling strategy.
“Waste pickers are reported to make between R290 and R770 from the waste they collect [a day], where certain research indicates that they can make as much as R3,000. This demonstrates the potential of waste in creating an income stream for individuals.
“From a business perspective, there are both monetary and corporate social responsibility incentives at the core of recycling. With new legislation and many corporate goals of zero waste to landfill, there is no doubt that corporate SA has a fundamental shift to make in changing their behaviour around previous ‘landfill’ wastes,” she said.
Gumbi added: “Informal waste reclaimers play a vital role in the minimisation of waste and in keeping the commercial and residential areas clear of waste. The waste recovery and recycling activities have a potential to be a formal industry that provides formal employment opportunities.”