When it comes to the dilemma of South African landfills running out of space, all relevant role players must acknowledge the significant impact of the construction industry.
According to Mpendulo Ginindza, President of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA), many local landfills are filled with construction waste rather than household waste.
“In spite of the fact that recycling construction waste is more expensive ánd it takes up more space in landfills, in some cases waste service providers don’t pay more to dispose of it. We really need to pay attention to our landfills and find new and different ways to dispose of this kind of rubble.”
Enforcement, rather than legislation, is the crux
Ginindza defines construction waste as rubble, like broken concrete, ceramics, wood, metals, and bricks, and construction debris, which includes tiles, plaster, roof material, doors, and pipes.
“Construction waste generally consists of materials used to build and then becomes waste during demolition or renovation of buildings, roads, bridges, and other similar structures. It is all considered debris.”
She further explains that construction waste is heavier, bulkier, and takes up more space than other sorts of waste, primarily household waste, which is a significant problem.
Despite the use of modern waste management technologies, Ginindza asserts that landfilling is still South Africa’s most dependable waste management option at the moment. “But when not properly managed, landfills provide a number of health problems to local communities through air pollution, leachate outbreaks, vectors carrying diseases, and odorous gas. There are already quite a few landfills that don’t meet the minimum standards. The South African waste legislation is adequate; it is the application and enforcement that seem to be a challenge.”
But what do countries that get it right do differently? And how can South Africa learn from them?
“They have a separate landfill for construction waste and there are reuse options for the debris to reduce what goes to the landfill,” Ginindza says. “They also have screening or sorting facilities on site, and sorting can also be done at the source.”
Focus on Now and Future
Ginindza says South Africa should start with a focus on both short and long-term solutions.
She adds that while it is true that landfill airspace appears to be decreasing throughout South Africa, major changes cannot be made to the current waste system.
That means the only real solution would be through consistent and gradual changes.
“The first step would be using smart technical knowledge and approaches to maximize airspace. Waste should be diverted for fast, practical gains. This can be done by increasing the efficiency of the current landfill systems, using dynamic compaction techniques, researching different expansion levels, finding alternate waste diversion methods, and choosing appropriate waste-to-resources programs.”
Ginindza concludes by emphasizing that the construction industry produces a lot of waste and that it needs to recognize that it has a significant role to play in resource management.
“They need to support the waste industry by fostering the principles of 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.”