IWM projects key to meeting GHG reduction targets and solving SA’s waste crisis

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IWM projects key to meeting GHG reduction targets and solving SA’s waste crisis

To accelerate the implementation of integrated waste-management projects (IWM) in the country, there needs to be radical shift in culture and product design, as well as closer collaboration between the public and private sectors, government bodies and industries. This is especially considering the important role that these projects can play in diverting organic waste from municipal landfill sites to reduce the release of menthane (CH4) into the environment.

So says Richard Emery, a JG Afrika Executive Associate and Integrated Waste Management Specialist. “If we are to meet our commitments as a signatory of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C[1], compared to pre-industrial levels, we should be prioritising the reduction of organic waste that undergoes a degradation process on our landfill sites. CH4 is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential about 85 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period[2],” Emery says.

Emery has participated and led many flagship IWM projects on behalf of JG Afrika, a leading firm of engineers and environmental scientists. Many of these IWM projects have harnessed all of JG Afrika’s competencies. They include civil and structural engineering and design, as well as transport and traffic expertise. This is in addition to geotechnical and wastewater engineering and geohydrology.

Emery is now participating in a Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Department of Forestry, Fisheries  and the Environment, (DFFE) programme with support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). It is working to find quicker and greater funding mechanisms for waste diversion projects in South Africa by viewing waste as a resource. In addition to helping to reduce emissions, the recycling and reuse of waste streams  would potentially support the development of new industries and jobs (and green-economy jobs), as well as ensure the more-efficient use of natural resources. This is as part of the circular economy. which is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources.

Limited municipal funds and prioritisation of solid waste diversion projects remain the largest constraints in the way of the efficient implementation of landfill diversion projects. Available resources are also being rerouted to what are considered more pressing priorities at present. This is despite the severe waste crisis that the country is also currently facing. According to Statistics South Africa, only 10% of all waste in South Africa is recycled, with the remaining about 98-million tons finding its way onto landfill sites. It is estimated that a single person out of a population of 57 million, in south Africa, potentially generates as much as 2kg of waste daily, on average. This is more than 125 million tons of hazardous and general waste that is generated every year of which most of that ends up on municipal landfill sites that are quickly being depleted.

“South Africa is fast running out of landfill space. Landfills being filled become mountains of waste, becoming a visual reminder of a throw-away society where we bury waste material while all we are doing is deferring the problem to others for later years. We cannot continue in this manner and will need to find and implement solutions sooner than later,” Emery says.

With available resources to finance a large portion of the make-up of IWM projects, he says that the private sector is ready to invest. It also has the technical skills and knowledge to successfully deliver and operate these projects. This is evidenced by the way in which many industries have successfully managed hazardous and specialist waste over the years. These processes all rely heavily upon specialised technical skills.

In a collaborative environment, the different skills and operational styles of the private sector will augment those of the public sector which are mainly geared at delivering services to citizens. In an ideal environment, there will also be close collaboration between different industries, as well as the various levels of government to help find diversion homes for output products. A case in point is those from wastewater treatment works and power stations.

Enticing the private sector will require projects with suitable and clear time frames. At present, many of these projects have been beset by delays and uncertain implementable time frames, mainly due to an inability to finance them or clear risk sharing.

Scale of projects is also another important consideration. Projects with a value of at least R500-million will be able to attract private investors.

However, Emery stresses the need for uniquely South African projects that also help address the country’s unique socio-economic challenges, among them high levels of unemployment.

“We need appropriate and sustainable solutions that are applicable to their environments and surrounding communities. This means that no two projects will be alike, although they may sometimes serve as a basis for the design of solutions. While we may want to tick as many of the appropriate boxes, we also need to be willing to make decisions and move forward without delaying projects,” Emery says.

Meanwhile, South Africa already has an ideal regulatory environment, as well as the political will and intent to engineer innovative solutions to help solve its waste crisis. This is evidenced by the National Waste Management Strategy. It aims to address many of the challenges that the county faces in terms of waste management. Among its goals include promoting waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and recovery of waste; growing the contribution of the waste sector to the green economy; and achieving integrated waste management planning.

Notably, among its goals, is ensuring sound budgeting and financial management for waste services by municipalities. Emery welcomes the role that national government is playing in facilitating and collaborating in the implementation of Integrated Waste Management Plans (IWMPs). These detail how municipalities intend preventing, recycling and managing solid waste in ways that most effectively protect human health and the environment.

Some of the country’s municipalities have incorporated strategies that JG Afrika helped formulate to mitigate the release of greenhouse gases into their IWMPs. At least one has already taken a solid step forward in terms of implementing some of the projects the firm helped it to develop to divert solid waste from its landfill sites.

These plans were undertaken as part of a project that the company managed on behalf of the DFFE. Driven by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and implemented by the GIZ, the project is part of the department’s Waste Flagship programme and aligned with its waste management near-term priority Climate Change Flagship Programme. The near-term priority Climate Change Flagship Programme identifies areas for strategic intervention that advance the objectives of the National Climate Change Response Policy and the National Waste Management Strategy.

As part of the project, JG Afrika helped 12 local municipalities identify alternative interventions, select best suited scenarios and draft business and implementation plans that were both practical and financially viable. It also drafted the applications for funding for the capital requirements through to the approval and commissioning phases of the projects. The firm also provided a full assessment of each projects’ contribution towards landfill fees, further motivating their implementation and adding to the overall sustainability of the projects over the long-term.

Progressing these projects will also require working closely with solid-waste management specialists, such as JG Afrika or other such specialists. This expertise will include assisting the municipalities use the various funding models that were developed and providing expertise and guidance to ensure the sustainability of the projects.

Certainly, an award-winning project recently undertaken by JG Afrika and the City of Cape Town serves as another sound example of the innovation that can be achieved when companies and government collaborate.

JG Afrika devised a novel way of re-using a landfill site for the development of a new state-of-the-art Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The MRF is the first to be located on an existing operational landfill site and it incorporates construction over the waste into its design.

A major challenge was engineering the building platform, as well as supporting the foundation loads of the structures over a waste body.

The large stockpile of builder’s rubble was processed into an engineered fill product and used in the layer and bulk earthworks, as well as for in the capping of the existing landfill embankments. This approach provided significant savings in transporting the material to a different site and in the procurement of material from traditional commercial sources for use in the earthworks – even after considering the cost of overseeing the quality of material that was produced from the stockpile by the contractor.

An innovative gas vent system was also designed to ensure that landfill gas does not build up and pose a risk to the Facility and its operations.

Based on the current design, the MRF has the potential to create up to 400 permanent jobs alone. These will be complemented by waste delivery and pick up jobs downstream. Notably, these jobs are all intended for workers such as waste salvagers, sorters and delivery drivers. This allows the full labour market access to the available positions. The MRF’s informal waste sorting area is also expected to stimulate the informal waste economy.

JG Afrika was able to produce innovative and sustainable solutions to this unique and interesting engineering challenge,” Emery concludes.


[1] UNFCC site

[2] As per CalRecycle website

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