Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

Durban - Although it’s taken nearly a decade to take effect, conservationists are lauding the fact that from Thursday it will be illegal to dump liquid waste on landfill sites.

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Albie Modise confirmed the new regulation.

He said the legislation prohibiting liquid waste disposal was gazetted in August 2013 with a six year transitional period to allow the industry to put the necessary measures in place.

“Prior to that, the work and consultation on the ‘Norms and Standards’ started in 2010,” Modise revealed.

He said when the change from Environment Conservation Act to the Waste Act became effective in 2009, certain objectives were required to be met.

One of them was a forward-looking waste management plan and incorporating the use of the best available tools, technology and knowledge.

A key benefit of the new liquid waste legislation, according to Modise, is that the country’s groundwater reserves will receive protection from seeping hazardous liquids.

He explained that landfills are known to produce leachate (liquid bearing soluble and suspended solids after it passes through matter) that is difficult to manage and treat, and leachate had the potential to seep into groundwater pools.

“Some of the country’s major landfills taking industrial waste is finding it difficult to manage leachate.”

Modise said his department couldn’t ignore the impact poor liquid management disposal practices had on landfill sites.

“The restrictions are aimed at addressing such difficulties, especially the management of leachate.”

Modise said there would be a two-fold approach to liquid waste management. Businesses and industry must demonstrate that they will find mechanisms to reduce the liquid waste they generate and where they cannot reduce, they will have to investigate beneficial uses of that liquid waste. 

Disposal was the last resort. While waste disposal facilities must ensure that whatever volume of liquid waste is brought to their disposal sites will be reduced to having less than 40 % moisture content to minimise leachate generation. 

He assured that those who transgressed the rules would face enforcement action, which includes both criminal and administrative action.

About policing, Modise said: “All facilities that dispose of waste are compelled through the various environmental authorisations they have, to report to us their compliance status with regard to the Norms and Standards. We also have a compliance monitoring unit that will undertake inspections to such facilities to assess compliance. Should the facility not comply with the requirements, enforcement action may be taken against transgressors.”

Reg Gerber, national landfill manager of Averda South Africa, an environmental solutions specialist company, said the banning of liquids and sludge to landfill sites was “way overdue” because the environment ultimately picks up the cost.

Gerber said by making effective the new measures, the department is essentially asking to industry stop producing liquid waste, they should take responsibility for the waste they produce, or else they would penalised.

With the department placing the onus largely on landfill sites to classify and properly handle waste they receive, Gerber said they had devised a two-pronged approach in handling liquid waste.

They are able to stablise liquid and sludge waste by binding them with ash, lime and chemicals and convert it into gel.

“Gel doesn’t leach and add to groundwater pollution.”

Gerber said their other solution was the blending of high calorific waste streams and to sell the refuse derived fuel that was generated.

Rico Euripidou of Groundwork, a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organisation, labelled the new law a boon for “community health” and important to halt “ecological degradation”.

“We believe this is happening because of recent landfill problems that has affected the community health in South Africa.

“Following the Shongweni landfill site judgment in the Durban High Court, high calorific liquid waste such as oil refinery waste, chemicals, paints and solvents are not allowed to be dumped at Shongweni landfill site, nor any other I think. This is a positive development because any high calorific toxic liquid waste such as oil refinery waste, chemicals, paints and solvents that is generated by industry highlights a failure in sustainability and economic efficiency.

“The only reason it’s dumped or landfilled into the environment is because it costs less to dump it than to treat it or even put systems in place to mitigate it! This is called externalisation – industry externalises the cost of their pollution to society and we end up paying for it in health or ecological degradation costs,” Euripidou said.

Sunday Tribune