Waste not, want not
Reduce, reuse, recycle … those are the guiding principles of any waste-management initiative. PETA LEE asks how the corporate world can get involved in reducing waste.
An astonishing 60 to 80 percent of solid waste generated in South Africa is recyclable.
“There are various waste streams, most of them appropriate for recycling,” says Suzan Oelofse, president of The Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA). “By seeing waste as a resource, we can help protect virgin materials and aim to create a circular economy where very little waste is generated.”
Most people in business are familiar with the basics of recycling: print as little paper as possible, re-use if you can and separate plastics, cardboards and paper. There is, however, a lot more than can be done. There are also many people and organisations working to encourage recycling and make it easier.
One of them is the local website MyWaste, founded by Mark Gibson. This directs people to their closest drop-off and buy-back centres. It is also a platform where collectors, emerging small businesses, recycling facilities, small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and others involved in sustainability and waste management can register their services, free.
MyWaste has also developed functionality to help companies and manufacturers: a widget for their corporate website with no reference to MyWaste, which helps consumers find a recycling location/ collection service for their recyclable packaging/products.
Widgets are updated in real time as recyclers update, add, edit or verify their locations every three months.
Just about everything, it seems, can be re-used or recycled. Somewhere there’s a place for almost everything including: old paper, packaging, engine/gearbox/cooking oil, tyres, glass, dead computers, spent batteries, cans, polystyrene or plastic. However, the rate at which companies and domestic consumers are recycling and re-using is simply not fast enough.
The Department of Environmental Affairs says South Africans generate almost 110-million tonnes of waste annually – a whopping five kilograms of waste per person daily – and only ten percent of this gets recycled.
Oelofse says this is a major problem because the country is fast running out of landfill space.
“We cannot continue with business as usual. The only alternative is to minimise waste through reuse and recycling,” she says. Of the approximately 110-million tonnes of waste produced, 90 percent goes to landfills.
Fifty percent of this is general waste (domestic, building and demolition waste, and business waste), 44 percent is unclassified waste (electronic waste, sewage sludge, brine, bottom ash and dust) and 0,93 percent is hazardous waste (batteries, toxic chemical waste).
What can businesses do to help reduce this problem, and become more active in reducing waste?
“Some companies are doing an amazing job, having entrenched a culture of waste minimisation and recycling, while others haven’t given it a second thought,” says Ryan van Heerden, national recycling and on-site manager at EnviroServ, the leading waste-management company in sub-Saharan Africa
“Fundamental to any waste management plan is taking ownership of your waste. Once you’ve done this you can start monitoring, measuring and, ultimately, managing it according to the waste hierarchy, which is: prevent, reduce, reuse, recycle, treat and dispose (listed in most to least favourable options).”
Van Heerden adds: “EnviroServ guides companies (regardless of industry, size and location) on how to achieve this. Our on-site waste management team can even take over ownership of a company’s the waste at source by properly separating and monitoring every waste stream produced. Only through this awareness will customers be able to make practical and feasible decisions on how to reduce waste going to landfill.”
It might be as simple as implementing recycling programmes, or as advanced as overhauling internal systems and processes to cut waste production. Changing procurement habits can also ensure that all waste produced is recyclable.
Van Heerden advises that all of this must be done “in a sustainable manner, taking cognisance of the various financial, environmental and socio-economic factors”.
He says that particularly during these tough economic times, waste isn’t at the forefront of many organisations’ thoughts. “It should be, though. This is not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because there can be massive financial savings through proper waste management.
“Yes, there is the stick approach: warning companies about the negative impacts of not properly managing waste – like legal compliance and fines, brand reputational damage, environmental and health impacts – but the fact remains that you can actually be compliant with all of the former and save your business money.”
As with health and safety, waste management is a culture needing to be nurtured and embraced by everyone in an organisation.
“Companies must be made aware of proper methods of waste management and recycling, and, in turn, ensure staff are educated. This will lead to them taking this message home and into their communities.”