New prohibitions on the type of materials that can be accepted at landfill sites are causing the waste management industry a severe headache for a simple, related reason, says Johan van den Berg, MD of Averda SA.
“The problem is that very few waste generators have either the capacity or necessary skills to analyse and classify their waste correctly.
“This then places considerable, added pressure on the waste management industry,” he says.
The prohibitions that came into effect in August 2019 dictate that certain types of waste - particularly liquid or sludge waste - can no longer be accepted at landfill sites if it has not been properly classified. The aim is to reduce the amount of waste destined for landfills, and to ensure that waste is handled correctly according to its classification.
This is especially true of waste that could rather be recycled or re-used. Which is where the guidelines contained in SANS 10234: Globally Harmonized System of classification and labelling of chemicals comes in.
Among the requirements are that they must ensure their waste is re-used, recycled, recovered, treated and/or disposed of within 18 months of generation. They must also document the class of waste produced, how much is produced, how much was re-used, recycled, recovered, treated or disposed, and by whom. And these records must be kept for five years.
The thinking is that if waste is correctly classified at source, then it can be correctly re-used or disposed of.
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Ignoring the upstream source
“On the one hand, we cannot accept unclassified waste at our facilities if we wish to remain compliant. Added to that, waste facilities are therefore seen by government inspectors as the simplest place to police whether these new regulations are being adhered to. Which ignores the not insignificant upstream source where waste is generated.”
Recent changes to the waste management regulations place full responsibility on generators to ensure that they handle their waste from ‘cradle to the grave’. This means they need to correctly store, handle, dispose and document how they deal with their waste.
While waste management firms like Averda handle the final stages of waste to ensure their clients don’t fall foul of the law, the recent regulatory changes place them under increased pressure.
Van den Berg says the need to correctly classify material as outlined in SANS 10234 is one of the biggest challenges.
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Specialised, expensive analysis process
“Correct chemical analysis of waste is a very specialised and expensive process. Doing so is costly and needs to be done for every waste stream. And this has to be redone if the producer changes any part of their production process, or the materials they use in their production process. The regulations also stipulate that they need to do so again every five years.
“So, this adds up very quickly, and for smaller producers it might simply be easier to dispose of their waste outside of the formal waste management value chain. Which completely neutralises government’s intentions.”
Apart from flouting the law, circumventing the formal waste management system places the environment at even greater risk from harmful materials.
Van den Berg says this worst-case scenario is to be avoided at all costs, and that Averda works with clients who do not have the capacity to perform the necessary classification analysis.
“Rather than simply turning away shipments of unclassified waste so that we remain compliant, we help them to get their waste properly analysed and classified. What we don’t know, however, is how many producers simply bypass waste management processes because the cost of compliance is too high.
“All producers have to ask themselves whether non-compliance is worth the potential penalties of up to R10m, and whether negligence is worth the untold damage that could be done to the natural environment.”