Waste Recycling in South Africa: The Private Sector is Called upon

South Africa aims to have all households in the country‘s large centers separating their own waste into recyclable and non-recyclable material by 2016.

The National Waste Act supports this by encouraging separation of recyclable waste at household level to be implemented in all municipalities over time. And the National Waste Management Strategy not only wants to see 25 percent of recyclables diverted from landfill sites for re-use, recycling or recovery, but urges all metropolitan municipalities, secondary cities and large towns to have initiated separation at source programs by 2016. But developing countries, such as South Africa, face a number of challenges to the successful implementation of tailored waste policy instruments.

Waste collection services: improvable  

Yet, the participation of households in these programs to achieving the 2016 target will be crucial, according to Dr Suzan Oelofse, principal researcher of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). 61 percent of all South African households had access to kerbside domestic waste collection services in 2007, but this access relates mostly to more affluent and urban communities, while the country has access to rather inadequate waste services. The Department of Environment in 2007 revealed that 54 percent of the national backlog in waste service delivery can be found in metropolitan and secondary municipalities. A study published by the CSIR in 2012 revealed that only 3.3 percent of the country‘s urban population regularly recycled household waste in 2010. And another study conducted by the CSIR shows that, of the estimated 19 million tons of municipal waste generated in South Africa in 2011, about 25 percent were mainline recyclables such as glass, paper, tins and plastics. In detail, the 2010 survey reveales that more than 73 percent of South Africans living in urban areas reported no recycling at all; about 27 percent of urban South Africans reported some recycling behavior; and only 3.3 percent of the respondents indicated that they sort most or all of the selected five recyclables from their household waste and recycle it on a frequent basis. “It is alarming that two thirds of the more than 2,000 urban South African households surveyed do not know where to dispose of their household recyclables. Furthermore, the majority of the participants in the study said that they do not know how nor what to recycle,” commented Wilma Strydom, project leader at the CSIR.

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For each municipality: local collection standards

The National Waste Act of 2010 not only encourages separation of waste at the point of generation at national level, but provides for municipalities to set local standards for the separation, compacting and storage of waste that is collected as part of the municipal service. This means that each municipality may prescribe, within their area of jurisdiction, how the waste generated at households must be separated and stored for collection. That was bone and bane to the municipalites. Investigating the state of domestic waste management in South Africa in 2009, the CSIR found a bundle of obstacles for municipalities like capping of municipal budgets, ineffective cost recovery for disposal at landfills, delays in finalizing municipal budgets, theft of infrastructure, reduced operational budgets and/or ineffective utilization of equipment and personnel. The relevance of these barriers lies within the fact, that of the non-permitted or unknown permit status of landfill sites, more than 90 percent are thought to be municipal landfills.

But South Africa`s waste management problems are not only caused by the municipalites. Or – not unusual in waste management developing countries – by sluggish and insufficient political support. The waste sector has to face several wide ranging challenges like a raising waste amount through growth of population and economy and an historical backlog of waste management services, but also because of an increasing complexity of the waste stream  and a limited understanding of the main waste flows including the national waste balance. One of the biggest handicaps was (and is) the lack of valid statistics. The (third) National Waste Information Baseline Report stated: “The accuracy of general waste generation data in South Africa is often very low and typically based on estimates. Domestic waste quantities are often estimated based on population statistics and economic activity within the municipality, while industrial waste quantities are largely estimated based on production figures.“

Statistical monitoring: meanwhile developed

This can best be shown by the figures of the South African Waste Information Center (SAWIC). Its Tonnage Report for 2004 resulted in 200,000 tons of waste including all activity types of all provinces. 2010 balanced 14.4 million tons, in 2012 there were 23.4 million tons, and 2014 finally accounted for 105.8 million tons. Even if the South African waste amount might have been exploded, the figures reflect the development of statistical monitoring as well. However, the data reveal a total of 40,324,835 tons disposal of waste to land (e.g. specially engineered landfill), 28,878,392 tons disposal of waste to landfill (e.g. non-engineered landfill), 15,004,539 tons direct recovery of raw material from waste (divided in general 9,347,992 tons and 5,656,601 tons of hazardous waste), 8,787 tons direct recovery of energy from waste (separated into general 4,761 tons and 4,026 tons of hazardous waste), a total of 2,706,935 tons recycled from metals and metal compounds, and thermal treatment like incineration or pyrolysis of 30,658 tons of hazardous waste. The recycling of organic substances aggregated to 804,371.6 tons, of  other inorganic materials to 16,653,775.6 tons. Waste recovery or recycling totaled 35,179,841.3 tons, including 5,735,715.6 tons of hazardous waste. All in all, hazardous waste added up to 11,974,517.4 tons – 11 percent of all registered waste.

National recycling rate: estimated 10 percent

Besides the statistics of the SAWIC (who’s methods are not beyond dispute), the National Waste Information Baseline Report 2012 delivered further facts. The reports show that of 108 million tons of waste in 2011 generated approximately in South Africa, 98 million tons or 90 percent were disposed of at landfills; estimated 10 percent was recycled. About 59 million tons or 55 percent was general waste, 48 million tons or 44 percent were then unclassified waste and the remaining one million tons or one percent hazardous waste.  Respective the waste type, the study revealed that commercial and industrial waste was assumed to contribute about 21 percent of the municipal waste stream in South Africa, household waste about 44 percent, contruction and demolition waste 20 percent and organics 15 percent. And the non-recyclable municipal waste contributes 35 percent (by weight) of the overall general waste, construction and demolition waste 20 percent, followed by metals (13 percent), organic waste (13 percent) and mainline recyclables including paper, plastics, glass and tires (19 percent).  Looking at the specific waste recycling rates totaling 59.3 million tons, commercial and industrial waste was recycled by 77 percent, metals by 80  percent, paper by 57  percent, organic waste by 35  percent and glass by 32  percent, followed by plastic (18  percent), construction and demolition waste (16  percent) and tires (4  percent). Among the hazardous waste types, the 32,912 tons of generated batteries reached a recycling rate of 98 percent and waste oils 44 percent. The report concludes that “waste management in South Africa is thus still heavily reliant on landfilling as a waste management option“.

Photo: Christopher Elwell | Dreamstime.com

Photo: Christopher Elwell | Dreamstime.com

Running out of landfill space

In the medium term, this might cause problems, especially for provinces like Gauteng and Western Cape. The waste amount of the regions Gauteng, Western Cape, Nortern Cape and Mpumalanga come to 761, 675, 547 and 518 kilogram per capita and annum, other provinces only produce between 199 and 68 kilogram. So Gauteng, Western Cape and Mpumalanga contribute to 45, 20 and 10 percent – together 75 percent – of the South Africa‘s municipal waste, while other provinces remain in the single-digit range. Not to mention the growth of waste amount: Depending on baseline and prognosis method, the National Waste Information Baseline Report 2012 reconed with a general waste growth rate of 1.57, 3.26 or 3.95 percent per annum.

As CSIR indicated 2012, only a few landfills in the Gauteng have a lifespan of ten years remaining. And the City of Cape Town, contributing 70 percent of the municipal waste in the Western Cape, was rated as also running out of landfill airspace. A research in  Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg showed that landfill space is mainly consumed by green waste, builders‘ rubble and “mainline recyclables“. The latter – paper, plastics, glass, tins and tyres – contribute to 25 percent of the municipal waste generated in Gauteng and 22 percent in Cape Town. CSIR researcher Suzan Oelofse drawed the simple conclusion: “The best solution for reducing pressure on available landfill space is a reduction in waste through waste minimization and recycling.” And she argued that if the composition of waste in Gauteng is comparable to the rest of the country‘s municipal waste, ”then it can be concluded that 25 percent of the 19 million tons of municipal waste is mainline recyclables“ and 4.75 tons of recyclables could have been recovered. Projected, 70 percent of all households could achieve a 70 percent recovery rate of their household recyclables, ”we will be able to achieve a recovery rate of 49 percent”, Suzan Oelofse concluded.

Private sector: greater innovation activity

What about the actors? At the ISWA Solid Waste World Congress in September 2014, a group of researchers presented their findings on ”The state of innovation in the South African waste sector“. Their results showed a surprisingly high level of waste innovation activity, with the private sector showing greater innovation activity than the public sector. An estimated 51.9 percent of private enterprises compared to 41.2 percent of municipalities indicated they had introduced new product innovations during the past five years, while 56.3 percent of private enterprises compared to only 35.3 percent of municipalities indicated they had introduced new process innovations.

The private waste sector also showed a greater tendency to introduce new technological innovations to the South Africa waste market, compared to municipalities who typically only introduced technological innovations to their own operations, with over 50 percent of private sector respondents indicating that they had introduced product or process innovations that were new to the South African waste market. And the private waste sector also showed a greater tendency than municipalities to introduce technological innovations from overseas, with 26.1 percent of private enterprises indicating that they had sourced their product innovations mainly from abroad and 34.7 percent of their process innovations.

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Waste sectors: private and public

An insight into “the formal private and public waste sectors in South Africa“ offers  the first  South African Waste Sector Survey, published 2012 by the Department of Science and Technology. (The autors admitted, that the size of the private waste sector in South Africa is not known. The study was based on a survey among known companies representing 443 organizations of the private and 234 of the public waste management sector with a response rate of 31 percent.) According to the resulting report, a minimum number of people were employed within the formal South African waste sector is 29,833 – 9.741 in the private, 20.092 in the public sector.

The majority of these employees are situated within large enterprises: 77.5 percent of private waste sector employees and 64.9 percent of public sector employees in metropolitan municipalities. The minimum financial value of the formal South African waste sector including public and private in 2012 is 15.3 billion South African rand (about one billion euro) or 0.51 percent of GDP. If the contribution of the waste sector to the green economy – as envisaged in the National Waste Management Strategy – would become reality, 69,000 new jobs and 2,600 additional SMEs and cooperatives participating in waste service delivery and recycling by 2016 are forecasted.

Technology solutions: different

The majority of this revenue is situated within large enterprises: 88.0 percent of private sector revenue and 80.4 percent of public sector revenue in metropolitan municipalities. 62.0 percent of the total revenue generated from waste activities in 2012 was done by companies which had been in the industry for more than 25 years. Companies that started up waste activities in the past five years contributed a minimum of 188 million rand (12 million Euro) into the economy in 2012. The two waste management sectors revert to different technology solutions. As the private sector uses mostly material recycling (37.4 percent), landfilling (23.0 percent), mechanical options (21.6 percent) and several others, municipalities still rely very heavily on landfilling by 89,9 percent as the primary solution for the management of waste, followed by material recycling (46.4 percent); the use of other technology options is negligible. As figures of the report show, the better financially positioned an private organization, the greater the probability of innovative technological and non-technological activity. But the greater the municipality, the more it shows increasing livelihood of innovative orientation.

So – the report balanced – innovation “is being done largely by the private sector and possibly a few metropolitan municipalities“. This suggests that the private sector might have a very important role and be “a potential stepping-stone for technological innovations from supplier into municipalities“.  As the report underlines, “the positive response by the private waste sector to introduce new technological and non-technological innovations to the South African waste market, suggests that they have an important role in transferring these innovations into the public sector. The private waste sector is a potential partner to support the transfer of technological innovations from supplier (local and abroad) into municipalities. Mechanisms to further support partnerships between the public and private sectors must be explored.“ Therefore opportunities for growth in the private waste sector have to be found.

No business-as-usual: alternatives wanted

In the Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap, the Department of Science and Technology developed and set an ambitious goal of a “20 percent reduction (by weight) in industrial waste and a 60 percent reduction (by weight) in domestic waste, to landfill by 2024” in support of government policy to move waste up the hierarchy. Achieving these goals will require alternatives to „business-as-usual“, supported by both technological and non-technological innovation.

That’s exactly what the Department of Environmental Affairs asked for in the National Waste Management Strategy, published 2011. According to the paper, the Industry must institute cleaner technology practices to help minimizing waste and have accessible take-back facilities for particular products or waste streams. And: “Private service providers play key roles in all stages of waste management, including in waste service delivery and recycling. An expansion of waste services to un-serviced communities will require municipalities to explore alternative service delivery mechanisms, including public private partnerships.“ Or, in the words of Suzan Oelofse: “Financial incentives are the main drivers for recycling from an industry point of view while environmental awareness supported by convenience are factors influencing post-consumer household recycling behavior.“

Foto: Charmaine Harvey | Dreamstime.com