Removing and safely disposing solid waste is a municipal responsibility. How well our municipalities are doing can be measured by the piles of plastic bags, cans and bottles that pollute and deface our veld, beaches, parks and streets. But we citizens are not blameless, either. We are the ones that throw away the stuff that the packaging industry thinks we can’t live without.
In reality, waste is not “disposed of” at all, but merely removed from our bins and streets and taken to the local dump, hopefully downwind and out of sight, and left to slowly decompose. This decomposition results in emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) and in a potentially toxic cocktail of liquid that has to be prevented from polluting our groundwater.
The proper management of solid waste dumps is a skilled and critically important job, and needs to be adequately funded. Even better, solid waste should be separated and the recoverable materials sent for recycling.
Where you live the streets may be clean and the household waste that you put into your wheelie-bin may collected, like clockwork, once a week. But in many areas in our towns and cities neither wheelie-bins nor regular collections are the norm. Frustrated households dump their waste on street corners, where it is left to the wind, rats and stray dogs.
Municipal workers in some rural Mpumalanga municipalities refuse to collect waste that includes disposable nappies, citing the health risk. As a result, piles of used nappies litter the veld and water-courses. They can take up to 450 years to fully decompose.
So, how will our politicians ensure
that our neighbourhoods are clean and safe?
The Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Western Cape is preoccupied both with identifying and managing landfill sites that at or near to capacity, and setting and managing waste reduction targets, which include the use of recycling. They cite the outsourced Malmesbury landfill operation in Cape Town as an example of innovative and sustainable waste management.
An important innovation in landfill management is the extraction of the methane they produce, which can then be burned to generate electricity. But by law, no one is allowed to generate electricity without Eskom’s permission – and at the price they determine, generally making this kind of technology economically unviable. Allowing Eskom’s monopoly to continue carries many hidden costs.
Congress of the People (COPE)’s manifesto mentions recycling but doesn’t give any details. The African National Congress (ANC)’s manifesto, on the other hand, mentions refuse removal, but nothing about how they intend to deal with the growing mountains of waste.
A healthy environment means a healthy community, says the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which pledges to ensure the integration of proper environmental practice into its daily operation as well as into planning and project management. According to a UDM spokesperson, waste reduction and recycling must become the number one priority for every council. “In the long-run there simply isn't enough space, infrastructure or resources to sustain the current rate at which landfill sites are used and expanded.”
Some questions for your newly-elected councillor:
- How do you intend improving waste collection in your area?
- What plans do you have to encourage recycling?
- Waste-pickers play a valuable role in recycling waste; how can the municipality support them?
- What steps have you taken to ensure there is no litter in your area?
- Landfill sites are dangerous, smelly and add to greenhouse gas. What are your plans for reducing the amount of solid waste that gets dumped?