South Africa’s landfills are dangerously full to capacity and we are running out of landfill space. The South African Waste Management Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that we must use and follow to minimise the burden on our landfills, to reduce the demand on earth’s natural resources and to ensure our country can develop economically and socially without prejudicing anyone or anything. By committing to these principles we can close the loop on waste and drive the circular economy, which is good for both business and for the planet.
A guide to environmental compliance
The government has taken several steps to regulate the waste industry, including the introduction of the National Environmental Management Waste Act in 2008 (hereafter referred to in this article as the Waste Management Act) and the Integrated Waste Management Plan.
The act aims to regulate and manage the generation, handling, disposal and treatment of waste in a sustainable manner that doesn’t infringe on human rights.
Here we take a closer look at the South African Waste Management Act and how it affects businesses and individuals, and how Mpact Waste Management can help you comply.
Unpacking the Waste Management Strategy
Historically, legislation regulating waste management in South Africa was fragmented and, to a lesser degree, still is today. Fortunately, the Waste Management Act of 2008 presented a more holistic and comprehensive approach to regulating (almost) everything about waste in our country, and it of course includes the internationally recognised waste management hierarchy of refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and dispose of waste.
The act is intended to protect the environment (fauna, flora, air, and water), as well as human health, and the welfare of the public from the potential harmful effect of waste. It does this by putting minimum legal requirements on government, businesses and individuals since we are all responsible for waste in one way or another.
Objectives of the Waste Management Act:
The preamble to the Waste Management Act is a reminder that everyone has a Constitutional right to live in an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing (Section 24 of The Constitution). The state is obligated to ensure this right is realised. It does this by making different Regulations, like this act, which everyone must comply with. This act’s objectives create the framework to ensure our Constitutional Rights are upheld. The objectives include:
- Minimising the extraction and utilisation of natural resources.
- Preventing and minimising the generation of waste.
- Reducing, re-using, recycling and recovering waste.
- Treating and safely disposing of waste as a last resort.
- Preventing pollution and environmental degradation.
- Protecting the environment while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
- Promoting and ensuring effective delivery of waste services.
- Achieving integrated waste management reporting and planning.
- And lastly, as mentioned above, generally giving effect to section 24 of the Constitution to secure an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing.
What the Waste Management Act covers:
Following from the act’s objectives, here is an overview of the waste management issues that the act covers:
The definition of waste:
Any substance, irrespective of whether it has the potential to be reduced, reused, recycled or recovered, that is surplus, or which the owner or generator does not need anymore. The definition includes waste generated by the mining, medical or other sectors. However, a by-product (which is a secondary product produced in a process) which has the same characteristics as the virgin or raw materials is not regarded as waste. In addition, any waste once it has gone through the process of reuse, recycle or recovery and has the same characteristics as the virgin or raw materials, is also not regarded as waste under the act.
The act reiterates the Constitutional mandate on municipalities to deliver waste management services including waste removal, storage and disposal. Municipalities may however set their own local standards for separation, compacting and storing of the waste they manage, and residents are bound by their local municipality’s standards. Municipalities must also include a report on waste in the annual performance report required in terms of section 46 of the Municipal Systems Act.
General duties and obligations of anyone generating waste:
The act outlines the duty or obligation for anyone (individual or business) who is a holder of waste to take steps within their power, to avoid the generation of waste, and to reduce, reuse and recycle; and to only treat and dispose of waste as the very last resort.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
EPR places the burden of disposal at the end of a product’s life on the Producer of that product. The Waste Management Act laid the foundation for EPR legislation by adding Section 18 (which came into effect on 5 May 2021) and makes it mandatory for any Producer to become a member of an approved EPR Scheme or Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) and to pay the relevant EPR fee. Here’s why companies need to care about EPR.
The act gives the Minister of Environmental Affairs the power to declare any waste that is harmful, toxic or poses a threat to humans and the environment, as priority waste. Asbestos is a good example of priority waste that was phased out, though it is still present in many buildings. Anyone handling priority waste will need to adhere to measures set by the Minister.
The selling of a product that can generate hazardous waste:
The Waste Management Act ties back to the Consumer Protection Act – which requires any person who sells a product that can generate hazardous waste or potentially harm the consumer, to ensure that the product is labelled appropriately.
Storage and collection of waste:
The act sets out the requirements for storage of waste, only approved storage containers are allowed, particularly for municipal waste. Although Section 23 of the act places the responsibility on municipalities to provide receptacles for recyclable waste that’s accessible to the public, it does not prescribe how this must be done, so municipalities can create their own standards. That’s why some municipalities offer recycling collection while others only offer this service at the local “dump”.
Transportation of waste:
The act also regulates the transporting of waste, including the type of vehicles used, the routes taken, and the disposal sites used – transporters must ensure they only transport waste to a suitable designated and licensed facility either for disposal of, or for processing. In addition, anyone transporting waste for profit may need to register with the relevant Waste Management Officer (WMO) and submit information on their activities (types and volumes of waste transported for example).
The act sets out the standards for waste treatment, including the type of treatment facilities that must be used, the level of treatment required, and the methods used to treat different types of waste.
Section 26 of the act covers the prohibition of unauthorised disposal of waste and littering. It prohibits any act of throwing waste or leaving it in an area not designated for disposal. It also places a responsibility on any owner of premises (be it private or public) to provide containers for discarding litter. So, owners of restaurants; parks, or lodges (for example) and government-owned areas (including streets) must place bins suitable to carry waste and must ensure that they are emptied on a regular basis.
Licence for waste management activities:
The act provides for licencing of waste management activities to regulate the industry and ensure waste is managed in line with the act and does not pollute or cause harm to people or the environment.
Environmental compliance and enforcement
The Waste Management Act requires businesses and individuals to comply with its provisions, failure to do so can result in significant fines and penalties, including imprisonment. The EPR Regulation (R. 1184) stipulates that failure to comply with various provisions is a criminal offence, which may on conviction lead to an “appropriate fine”, imprisonment for a period of 15 years, or both. To ensure compliance, businesses must have a waste management plan in place that outlines how they will manage their waste and ensure that it is handled and disposed of responsibly and ethically. Mpact Waste Management can help you comply and offers reporting on all your waste, click here for your obligation-free quote.
Individuals must also play a role in ensuring environmental compliance by first reducing the amount of waste they generate – “think before you buy”, and then by reusing products wherever possible. If reduction and reuse aren’t possible then recycle and compost waste that doesn’t belong in landfill. Here are affordable, quality compost bins to get you started. Only as your last resort, dispose of any non-recyclable waste responsibly.
To Sum Up
We live in a world where almost everything we consume comes packaged, whether it’s in plastic, paper, or cardboard, glass, metal, or polystyrene. It may not be possible to completely avoid waste, so we should rather manage it responsibly and sustainably to reduce its negative impact on our environment. This is done through waste management strategies, which are often regulated by government through legislation. Indeed, any civilised society will actively pursue development that is sustainable, and this is only possible through waste management.