Landfill closure could leave toxic waste backlog
Durban – The possible shutdown of Enviroserv's Shongweni landfill facility that treats the hazardous waste of more than 1000 companies could cause a backlog in the disposal of this type of industrial waste in KwaZulu-Natal.
EnviroServ group chief executive Dean Thompson said the controversial Shongweni Landfill managed approximately 70% of the industrial waste produced in Durban and about 50% of the province’s industrial waste.
He said the landfill site did not process waste materials, but rather treated and disposed of them.
“Among the waste streams it accepts are industrial chemicals, condemned foodstuffs, contaminated soils and general household waste. EnviroServ handles about 14 000 tons of waste a month,” Thompson said.
Upper Highway residents have been protesting for months about a strong odour which they allege is emanating from the landfill site and which they claim is impacting their health.
The Department of Environmental Affairs served a notice on Enviroserv last Friday giving the company four days to submit reasons why the department should not revoke or suspend its licence.
This was after the Green Scorpions referred a docket containing the results of associated criminal investigations to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision on whether to prosecute.
Group commercial director at EnviroServ Dawie Krugel tackled the issue at an environmental forum briefing hosted by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday.
“Up until April last year, we had one complaint per month after 20 years of operating. Then we began receiving thousands every month. From April to August, we were in denial and were complacent,” Krugel said.
Enviroserv said on Thursday that, since then, many remedial measures had been agreed to with the department and several more were under way.
“Our investigations have led us to conclude that the change in industry-wide waste management minimum requirements in 2013 inadvertently caused the recent odour problems. The change in treatment of the waste caused the pH levels of the site to drop, creating an environment conducive to sulphurous emissions.”
However, the department had instructed the company in a compliance notice issued last year to revert to treatment as dictated by previous waste regulations, to treat incoming waste to a pH of 9, which had now resulted in a “marked improvement”.
Enviroserv said it had responded to the department’s notice issued last Friday but declined to disclose details of the submission.
Department spokesperson Albi Modise said the changes in waste management had sought to eliminate delays in the regulation process owing to the introduction of a self-regulatory system.
“These statements are therefore wholly unsubstantiated at the moment given that over and above the self-regulation system, there are many checks and balances, including duties of care provisions contained in environmental law that must be complied with in order to ensure that, if managed correctly, a situation of this nature is anticipated and corrected before it occurs.”
Modise said he could not say when a decision on the licence would be finalised.
“We will take into consideration the representations put forward by EnviroServ as well as the outcomes of the engagements between all other relevant affected authorities and roleplayers,” Modise said.
Rico Euripidou, an environmental health campaigner at environmental group groundWork, said it was worrying so much of the province’s waste was treated at the landfill site.
“The generation of hazardous waste needs to be addressed as a root cause – waste policy should work to systematically reduce the amount of hazardous waste in the first place – this is in line with the department’s national waste framework which demands a long-term zero-waste scenario and planning,” Euripidou said.
He said the waste, if not treated at Shongweni, could be sent to another landfill site such as the one on the Dolphin Coast.
Lauren Johnson, a director at Upper Highway Air, said while the company had accepted partial responsibility for the odour, it had also blamed other companies.
“They have gone from denying categorically, to admitting to be partially to blame to now admitting it is them, but that it is not their fault, but that of the department and the regulations when other waste management companies bound by the same law have not inadequately treated the waste,” Johnson said.
“We would like to see the department revoke the EnviroServ Shongweni waste management licence.”