The Ga-Rankuwa landfill site north of Pretoria. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)
The Ga-Rankuwa landfill site north of Pretoria. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)

Plan for a circular economy in which products should have a second life

Time of article published Sep 16, 2020

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Val Boje

SOUTH Africa has a waste challenge with around half of our general solid waste ending up on landfill sites and litter and pollution damaging the well-being of our rivers and oceans.

As the country marks the annual Clean-up and Recycle focus this week, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries is celebrating Cabinet’s approval of an updated National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS).

This strategy aligns with Waste Phakisa, where waste management is not only seen as a community service, but as a viable economic activity, said Minister responsible for the department, Barbara Creecy in an interview with Pretoria News.

The NWMS is based on the principle of the circular economy, which integrates the product life cycle - from raw material through design and use, recovery, recycling and its reuse. Key to this is the aim to eliminate waste by ensuring that “for every product that we produce, that product should have a second life,” says Creecy.

Product manufacturers have a responsibility to close gaps in a circular economy, by being innovative in the design of products that can have that second life, rather than end up as waste being dumped.

This is to be managed through the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy in terms of which producers carry a burden of responsibility for their products in the post-consumer stage.

For a long time there have been attempts to involve the private sector more, said Creecy, and the department welcomed initiatives such as the reusable PET plastic 2l bottle on trial by Coca-Cola beverages.

That tax on plastic shopping bags is intended to reduce consumption and facilitate the recycling and reuse of the product, and the department had been in discussion with the National Treasury to look at how money from the levy is used to enhance aspects of the value chain, she said.

The new National Waste Management System sees a bigger role for informal waste recyclers in a circular economy. Picture: Supplied/ANA files

Seeing waste as a resource, including incentivising waste, expanding the market for recyclable products, and formalising waste reclamation with waste pickers part of the recycling value chain, are other aspects of the updated strategy.

Sorting at source is something the department would have wanted South Africa's bigger municipalities to be more involved in, but Creecy acknowledged challenges with infrastructure, and that we are not at the level of some advanced economies.

Food waste makes up about one third of organic waste and Creecy reflected on time she spent at a micro enterprise sorting facility where she witnessed how this not only made the sorters' job difficult but rendered other waste such as cardboard unusable.

“What you see when people are not careful to separate at source, and throw tea bags and banana peels into the bag, that many items that could have been recycled are contaminated.

“Plastic bottles are quite robust, but the paper and cardboard can get very damaged; throw in light bulbs, batteries and used oils, and it becomes increasingly dangerous for those doing the reclamation, and limits the amount of waste you are able to reclaim.”

Creecy said the NWMS sets an ambitious target of 40% diversion from landfills over the next five years - and within 15 years have zero waste going to landfills.

In European countries, there has been a tendency to move away from landfill to alternative sources of waste disposal, with sorting at the household level. In Finland for example, waste is incinerated rather than dumped, and is used as an energy source.

When it comes to the public - especially at this time where there is a focus on cleaning up our environment and recycling, Creecy’s message is that awareness, behaviour change - even something simple like rinsing a milk bottle before discarding it - and a culture of compliance by not dumping or littering are required for a more sustainable and healthier environment.

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