Alternative waste disposal management methods: answer to landfill challenge

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Landfill site space in South Africa is running out and alternative waste disposal methods will need to be adopted

Landfill site space in South Africa is running out and alternative waste disposal methods will need to be adopted, says business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan environment and building technology research analyst Derrick Chikanga

Waste is mostly placed in landfills and there is limited treatment of waste using alternative technologies. He says that this is mainly owing to the heavy reliance on landfill disposal methods. South Africa currently generates about 533,6-million tons a year of waste and the significant waste generating industries include mining, power generation, agriculture, forestry and industrial activities.

Mining is the biggest generator of waste – generating 468,2-million tons a year – followed by the industrial sector with 16,3-million tons a year, the power generation sector with 20,6-million tons a year, the agriculture and forestry sector with 20-million tons a year, the household sector with 8,2-million tons a year and the sewage sludge sector with 0,3-million tons a year.

In the mining industry, environmental legislation has been enforced, stipulating that a number of historical mining debris dumps and tailings dumps that have existed in different industries should be treated, disposed of or rehabilitated. Chikanga says that this has 
resulted in large amounts of hazardous mining debris and tailings dumps being disposed of at landfill sites in a manner that poses hazards.

In the industrial and power generation sectors, the increased demand for petrochemical products and the ongoing expansion in the energy and power sector have resulted in the generation of large volumes of mostly hazardous waste material.

Further, he notes that the current global recession has had an effect on all market segments, but the hazardous waste management market has been most affected owing to the slowdown in mining activities.

Chikanga points out that there are alternatives to landfills. He says that limited recycling takes place in South Africa, but recycling is an important element of an effective waste management framework and has the benefits of saving raw materials, as well as reducing pollution. Most recycling activities in the country are private-sector initiatives run by manufacturing companies through buy-back facilities.

“Alternative treatment as a landfill replacement, especially for hazardous waste material, is expected to become a common practice in the near future. Physicochemical and recycling or reuse technologies are best suited to treat the hazardous waste material currently generated in South Africa,” says Chikanga.

The generation of energy from waste material is rapidly becoming an important component of integrated waste management strategies throughout the world. He says that waste-to-energy generation plays an important role in relieving pressure on landfills and the disposal of any waste material that cannot be recycled.

Chikanga adds that waste energy projects in South Africa will probably grow at a greater pace once State-owned power utility Eskom increases its electricity rates.

He says that, in the short-term future, the current economic slowdown should have a negative effect on all waste management markets and these markets should experience low growth in the next two to three years. He expects the hazardous waste management market to continue to be driven by environmental legislation.

“In the long term, as the economic conditions start improving, all waste management segments are expected to experience high growth. This is expected to place pressure on existing landfills and alternative methods, such as recycling, landfill replacement and waste-to-energy technologies, are expected to play a crucial role in alleviating the pressure on landfill sites,” concludes Chikanga.

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