JOHANNESBURG’s residents and businesses can no longer continue putting all their rubbish in one bin and expect Pikitup to collect it, take it to a landfill and dump it.
At present, the city generates 1.8-million tonnes of rubbish a year, which is sent to four landfill sites: Marie Louise, Ennerdale, Robinson Deep and Goudkoppies. But at current trends and with 90% of mixed waste going to landfill sites, the city will run out of space in seven years.
Pikitup MD Amanda Nair says it would cost more than R1bn to build a new landfill site, taking into account engineering, lining, drainage and road networks.
It costs the city R600m a year to clean the streets and deal with illegal dumping.
Pikitup, which last week was hit by a violent strike, serves an area of 1,625km² and is responsible for cleaning and sweeping 9,000km of streets in the City of Johannesburg’s seven regions.
An independent refuse removal company has been hired to move the 30,000 tonnes of rubbish that has piled up on the city’s streets because of the industrial action, while management and South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) leaders have agreed to meet on Monday.
Pikitup spokesman Jacky Mashapu said the strike cost R1.25m a day.
In some countries, there is zero waste to landfill because residents separate their rubbish into different streams for recycling or incineration. Even though there is some recycling in SA by informal reclaimers, the country is a long way from the levels of resource reuse in China, says Ms Nair.
For the past few years, Johannesburg has run a separation-at-source pilot project in a few suburbs. From next year, this has to be rolled out across the city, involving co-operation from all stakeholders including Pikitup employees, residents and the informal sector, Ms Nair says.
Waste is a resource around which small businesses can be built and jobs created.
About 18 months ago, Pikitup approved a waste-minimisation plan. It is drafting a resource, recovery and logistics plan, which includes looking at how Pikitup’s infrastructure needs to be adjusted for a different way of handling waste in future. For example, the old garden refuse sites are being adapted to become service centres taking streams of recyclables.
Other collection vehicles and incinerators will be needed.
“Our primary goal is not raising revenue but reducing the amount of waste to landfill,” Ms Nair says. “Our plans will allow other partners to extract economic value from waste.”
But the streets around Pikitup’s Braamfontein head office last week showed signs of a hasty clean-up by Pikitup executives and Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau. Within two hours, their efforts were obliterated as aggrieved Samwu members re-energised their protest by overturning more dustbins.
Ms Nair, who helped sweep the streets, says strikers had not tabled any formal demands.
An interdict was obtained to halt the strike and an ultimatum issued to workers to return to work or risk dismissal.
Efforts to get comment from the union at the weekend failed.
Last year, Ms Nair was suspended over allegations of impropriety in the award of a tender. In February, she was cleared of charges and reinstated as MD.
The utility has announced a R600m turnaround, from a deficit of R432m in 2013 to a surplus of R181m this year. The improved performance stems from a five-year plan to focus on better revenue collection, reduced overtime and improved fleet performance.
Chief financial officer Suren Maharaj says 90% of Pikitup’s revenue was earned from domestic clients and 10% from commercial clients. There is limited room to improve domestic revenue, collected on Pikitup’s behalf by the City of Johannesburg. But by ensuring better service to commercial customers, Pikitup has reduced bad debts and improved collections.
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.