THERE are downsides to Johannesburg being the country’s economic heartland — its residents produce mountains of waste that throttle its overflowing landfills.
On average, Johannesburg residents generate 6,000 tonnes of waste daily, while the typical South African churns out about 2,068kg a year.
This poses serious problems for the city’s authorities on multiple fronts. On average, illegal dumping costs Johannesburg R170m a year and the scourge is a serious health hazard because medication and electronic waste make their way into landfills, says City of Johannesburg waste entity Pikitup waste minimisation strategy director Musa Jack.
Rising electronic waste — among which are everyday gadgets including cellphones and computers — also constitutes an environmental danger because it contains toxic substances such as arsenic, lead and barium.
Ms Jack says: “We have electronic waste disposal bins available around the communities we serve … (But this) is not the only thing that is hazardous to the environment — nappies (are another danger), especially when children are playing next to the waste.”
Although the challenges seem insurmountable, Pikitup is making inroads — its waste separation at source initiative has seen 83,000 tonnes of rubbish diverted from the city’s landfill sites, says Ms Jack.
But this figure could be much higher if more households took part in the programme that was first introduced in selected areas with the aim of curbing illegal dumping, and recycling.
Since its inception in 2009, 450,000 households have been reached, but only 21% are active participants. Ms Jack cites as contributing factors a lack of understanding of the importance of recycling and individuals slipping back into old habits.
Pikitup deploys young trainees to households in their communities to preach the gospel of recycling, but this is proving a difficult task.
One of the ways Pikitup is intercepting illegal dumping is through the provision of multiple refuse bags to households so that residents can separate their rubbish.
Also, the entity has budgeted R50m towards this objective in the 2015-16 financial year.
Controlling illegal dumping reduces the amount of methane gas emitted into the air.
Prof Suzan Oelofse, of the Institute of Waste Management Southern Africa, says the separation at source initiative has a number of environmental benefits.
She explains: “(It) not only assists in diverting waste from landfills, but also increases the quality of the recyclables available for recycling. Clean recyclables can be recycled into higher-value products than dirty or mixed (ones).”
There are potential economic spinoffs from adopting a greener approach to waste management, she says, citing the long-held ethos among environmental diehards: Moving waste up the hierarchy towards reuse, recycle and recover.
Recycling reintroduces resources to the economy, lessens the burden on finding virgin resources, and contributes to job creation.