Drowning in waste

Drowning in waste

South African landfills are 94-percent full, while the country continues to produce about 53 425 t of waste per day. Recycling is a matter of life or death, as MARISKA MORRIS discovers

According to the World Bank’s 2012 report, 1,3-billion tonnes of waste is produced globally every year, costing the world economy US$ 205,4 billion (R2 trillion). Every minute, 2 473 t of waste is produced worldwide. South Africa contributes around 37 t of waste per minute. With landfills brimming, where will all this waste go?

“Landfill sites are around 94-percent full. Government (both on a national and provincial level) is frantically looking for suitable areas to use as the next landfill sites, but the communities surrounding the proposed sites keep shutting down the process,” says Deldrian Jacobs, senior contract manager at Waste Plan, a waste management organisation.

The unavailability of land means landfills continue to stay open after being filled. “The Bellville South landfill site in Cape Town was due for closure four years ago, but it is still operating today to keep up with demand,” Jacobs notes.

“The Vissershok landfill site in Cape Town will be full in just over a year or so, but it will probably be forced to keep on taking in waste,” he comments. According to Jacobs’ estimation, landfills have enough space for only three years of waste, which is why recycling is so important. “It keeps waste out of the landfill sites,” he argues.

Waste management companies prevent recyclable material from ending up in a landfill. According to Waste Plan’s website, up to
90 percent of all waste is recyclable. Of these recyclable products, the most important is, arguably, organic waste, which can be burned to create bio-fuel.

Organic waste makes up 54 percent of waste produced in upper-middle income countries. The World Bank categorised South Africa among upper-middle income countries along with Fiji, Namibia, Russia and Mexico.

Sweden leads the way

One country that has been successful in the waste-to-energy (WTE) movement is Sweden. It reported that only one percent of all household waste is sent to landfills. The rest is burned for fuel. The country has been so successful that it now needs to import around 700 000 t of waste from other countries in order to keep its WTE plants running at full capacity.

Not only is burning waste a cheap source of fuel, it is healthier for environment. Waste at landfills releases harmful emissions like methane into the air. Burning waste only releases non-toxic carbon dioxide and water, according to the website Sweden Sverige. In January, South Africa’s very own WTE plant opened in Athlone, Cape Town.

“The bio-methane gas produced by burning organic waste is harvested and bottled. The aim is to replace the gas we currently use in our homes with this methane,” says Jacobs. The WTE plant is expected to start generating bio-fuel by mid-2017.

A single WTE plant won’t, however, resolve the city’s waste woes. Although WTE is a step in the right direction, more emphasis needs to be placed on recycling.

Recycling is vital

One important recyclable material is used oil. The Recycling Oil Saves the Environment (Rose) Foundation is an organisation that manages oil recycling.

Workshops, mines and farms are the main generators of used lubricating oil, which is then bought by collectors that transport and sell it to processing plants.

“The processing plants subject the oil to a re-refining process of distillation and hydrogenation. They recycle it by changing the chemical composition to form different products,” says Bubele Nyiba, CEO of the Rose Foundation.

Recycled oil is used to produce industrial heating fuel, asphalt extender and base oil.

Lubricating oil thus comes full circle in the recycling process, which can be repeated numerous times.

Recycling of lubricating oil is especially important as it is classified as hazardous waste. By recycling oil, it does not enter our soil, which could result in it polluting fresh and underground resources, and water-based animals. “One litre of used oil can contaminate one million litres of water,” Nyiba explains.

On the other hand, burning oil in open fires is dangerous to our health, as hazardous substances are released into the atmosphere and the air we breathe.

“The Rose Foundation places oil drop-off containers in municipal garden refuse sites throughout the major centres. Larger generators of used oil generally know what to do and where to go and the few that don’t know usually contact us and we connect them with the nearest collector,” says Nyiba.

Jacobs believes communities can assist with recycling by providing a space for recyclable products to be dropped off. “We can also arrange training for communities at these places,” he says.

One of the most important benefits of recycling is that it creates jobs.

There are 60 000 to 90 000 waste pickers in the country. They save municipalities up to
R750 million a year, the Sunday Times reported last year. Each picker diverts up to 24 t of packaging waste annually.

Jacobs notes that residents and companies can also make a difference and can contact Waste Plan to learn more about recycling.

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