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electronic waste in IndiaThe fact that waste dumping and services is not a key issue in the South African State of Environment Report is an indication of government denial towards the growing challenge we have with waste management in South Africa.  Indeed it was only in 2008, 14 years after democracy, that legislation pertaining to waste management reached the Presidency.

No-one really knows how much waste is produced, recycled or dumped in South Africa. Developing a waste information system has been consistently identified as a priority since the early 1990's and has as consistently been neglected.  As a result of this there is no definitive information on what waste is produced in South Africa.  What is evident however, is that very many unlicensed waste dumps are situated in communities of colour.   This is not a practice that has just been inherited from the apartheid government, but rather one that is reinforced by the development policies within a democratic South Africa.

Of the 1327 waste dumps that are documented in South Africa, 639 do not have licenses to operate.  A further startling figure is that there are 58 high hazardous landfill sites that are unlicensed. The few that are licensed are ill managed.  These figures do not include all the mining waste which constitutes more than 80% of South Africa’s waste.  This illegal status of waste disposal does not stop dumping at these, and indeed in 2008, the Sasol and Total oil refinery used an unlicensed dump to dispose of the industrial waste.

Despite government recognising that mining waste makes up 80 % of the waste stream, it is excluded from the definition of waste within the new Waste Act.  Alarmingly, government ignores the health care waste disposal crisis that South Africa finds itself in.  Definitive figures on this waste have also yet to be produced.

groundWork has been working with waste reclaimers over the last two years.  Waste reclaimers are also referred to as scavenges and waste pickers.  They make a livelihood from taking recyclables off waste dumps and selling them for recycling. Waste pickers have fought for recognition by government who in the past sought to exclude them from decision making and actively ignored their input to waste management, and in particular recycling in South Africa. Municipalities in particular are in charge of waste management (Municipal Systems Act 2000) but are failing to involve waste reclaimers, who reclaim from most of the municipal waste landfill sites in South Africa.

The incineration of waste is a contentious topic in South Africa.  During the Waste Act negotiations the parliamentary process was extended due to the debate on the pros and cons of the incineration of waste.  There has been success in moving away from incineration in the province of KwaZulu Natal.  However, government is under pressure from industry to introduce waste incineration legislation and they are pressuring government to speed up policy to allow for incineration.  Incineration of waste is destined for far flung rural areas – out of sight and out of mind – as government works with the cement industry to facilitate the incineration of waste in cement kilns. Government, after pressure from groundWork, has undertaken ‘some public consultation’ with communities living next to the proposed cement kilns who have specifically stated their disapproval of these proposals.

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