Instead of dumping waste at landfill sites, we need to look at ways of reusing and recycling it, which will not only benefit the environment and society, but will also create jobs. Picture: Bongani Shilulbane/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - “Where there’s muck, there’s money,” the old saying goes, and a principal scientist at the CSIR on Wednesday broke down some of the numbers around the economic opportunities in waste.

Speaking at the Landfill 2019 conference in Cape Town that ends today, Linda Godfrey, who heads up the Waste Research Development and Innovation (RDI) Implementation Unit, which is tasked with implementing South Africa’s 10-year Waste RDI road map, said: “The diversion of waste away from landfill up the waste hierarchy towards prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and towards value-adding opportunities has the potential to create numerous environmental, social and economic opportunities for South Africa.

“It is in this that we find the opportunities for waste and the green economy,” said Godfrey.

Godfrey spoke of “opportunity waste streams” and said this would include the diversion of organic waste to composting, bio-energy recovery or higher-value product recovery (biorefinery), the reuse and recycling of paper and packaging such as plastic, paper, metal, glass and the refurbishment, repair, reuse and recycling of e-waste, which would depend on appropriate collection systems and local end-use markets.

Researchers say the estimated value of South Africa’s waste is R25.2billion a year and that an estimated 90% of the waste we generate is disposed of in landfills which are often little more than very poorly designed and operated dump sites.

Also, an estimated 30% of the food the country produces goes to waste, about 85% of builders’ rubble (mineral component) is landfilled and, according to Packaging SA, 49% of packaging waste is still disposed of to landfill.

Godfrey said: “I always say, thank heavens we have the informal waste sector, because without them we would probably not have a recycling economy in South Africa.” She said integrating the informal sector, which is active across Africa, including South Africa, was key to unlocking these resource opportunities.

Speaking about the African continent as a whole, Godfrey said diverting waste away from dump sites towards reuse, recycling and recovery could inject an additional $8bn (R118bn) a year into the African economy. This would create significant socio- economic opportunities “and if done responsibly, address environmental and human health issues”.

US landfills expert Boyd Ramsey said: “The plastic waste that we’re generating is showing up everywhere South Africa is doing a good job with making sure its plastic bags are recyclable.”

Ramsey applauded local businesses, and particularly Cape Town firm Kaytech, for its project where it recycles plastic bottles into textiles, and said its example should be copied “1000 more times in hundreds of different countries”.

@MwangiGithahu

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Cape Argus