A JG Afrika Zero Waste to Landfill Pilot Project won a Special Mention for the AfriSam Innovation Award for Sustainable Construction at Construction World’s Best Projects Awards 2021, as well as third place at the 2021 IMESA/CESA biennial Excellence Awards under the Environment & Climate Change category.
The Witzenberg Zero Waste to Landfill Pilot Project was undertaken on behalf of the Wellington Association Against the Incinerator (WAAI). JG Afrika’s team of sustainability specialists worked with specialists from Circular-Vision, a leading sustainable business consultancy, on this project.
The pilot project will inform a larger plan to alleviate pressure on Witzenberg Municipality’s landfill sites, which are in a critical state due to high operating costs and limited capacity. Licensed to receive garden and general waste, as well as builder’s rubble, Wolseley Landfill was forced to close after its offices and equipment were vandalised. Tulbagh Landfill has applied for a license to increase its limited available capacity. However, should this application be declined, solid waste will have to be transported to Worcester or Drakenstein at a very high cost to the municipality. Meanwhile, high operating costs may result in Op-die-Berg Landfill having to close its door in the future.
The pilot project tested the efficacy of diverting waste from landfill by having a select number of households separate their waste at source and then beneficiating as much of it as possible. These important findings will inform the rollout of more Zero Waste to Landfill projects in Witzenberg Municipality.
Boipelo Madonsela, a JG Afrika Environmental Scientist, says that Witzenberg Municipality played a notable role in enabling this project and was invested in its success to help find a sustainable solution to its waste crisis. “The municipality selected the town of Tulbagh for the pilot project which consisted of approximately 100 households that participated in the programme. The Municipality also allocated resources in terms of the Waste Ambassadors from its Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), vehicles for waste collection, and made the town hall available for our waste characterisation study,” Madonsela says.
As part of the first phase of the project, a waste characterisation and brand audit study were undertaken between 25 March and 5 April 2019 at the Tulbagh town hall. The waste characterisation and brand audit study provided the team with a sound understanding of the nature of the waste from Tulbagh; Ceres; Wolseley, Op die Berg; Nduli; Prince Alfred Hamlet; and Bella Vista. During this period, waste characterisation and brand audit training was also provided to the Waste Ambassadors to better prepare them for the larger rollout of more Zero Waste to Landfill projects in the future when they would potentially be actively involved in these processes.
JG Afrika and Circular-Vision ascertained that the largest waste components in Witzenberg Municipality were cardboard, paper, food waste and glass, which could all be recycled as opposed to being sent to a landfill. Separating them at source would avoid contaminating recyclable material and remove organic material from landfill sites to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They, therefore, suggested that the municipality focus on finding opportunities to separate waste at source. The pilot project would inform the process.
A second waste characterisation and brand audit study were undertaken on 2 October and 3 October 2019. It included waste that would be sent to the landfill from the pilot area. The characterisation was undertaken by the same local Waste Ambassadors following a brief refresher capacity building session. “By incorporating the Waste Ambassadors into our project, we ensured that it had a broader socio-economic impact by also directly benefiting poor communities located within its footprint. Impressively, the Waste Ambassadors took ownership right from the outset of the project. Involving them in the waste characterisation and brand audit studies also ensured that they were better able to fulfil their role of informing, advising and training households in the correct separation of recyclable and organic materials from the waste streams. They played an exemplary role in transferring knowledge and skills to residents, as well as explaining the benefits of recycling and composting to them,” she says.
The second phase of the pilot project was implemented between 2 October 2020 and 4 December 2020.
Households identified by the Municipality were invited to participate in the project via pamphlets that were placed in their post boxes. They registered to take part in the project over its entire duration at a community meeting. These residents also received “starter packs”, consisting of recycling and compostable bags, which were replenished every week, as well as a caddy to handle the compostable bags. Clear bags were used for recyclables and compostable bags for food waste. Green bags were designated for garden clippings in line with the municipality’s existing system. Meanwhile, black bags were used for other waste and sent to landfill according to Witzenberg Municipality’s current waste-management processes.
Meanwhile, a group of residents also volunteered to establish a Household Committee which met weekly with the project manager. It kept additional caddies and replacement bags for residents and undertook a household survey that also helped to inform the project.
A household waste separation-at-source workshop and capacity building session was held with the Waste Ambassadors at the pilot area on 9 October 2019 to familiarise them with the weighing and collection of the separated waste.
Weekly weighing and collection continued from 16 October 2019 through to 4 December 2019. The weighing was undertaken by four teams of Waste Ambassadors who were each assigned a section of the pilot area.
Bags containing the compostable and garden waste were sent to a compost facility and the recyclable material to an existing recycler located at the landfill site. Meanwhile, black bags were disposed of at the landfill. A total 221,9kg of food waste; 1 446,7kg of recyclable material and 2 471kg of garden waste was diverted from the landfill during the pilot project. Meanwhile, 3 603kg of waste was landfilled.
Madonsela says that the Zero Waste to Landfill Pilot Project was guided by the principles of the waste hierarchy and Circular Economy approach. “The waste hierarchy has been adopted by the National Waste Management Strategy as a means of addressing waste management challenges in the country. It firstly encourages reducing the generation of waste and reusing it. Material that cannot be reused can then be recycled or composted. Landfilling is the absolute last available option in the waste management hierarchy to provide a sustainable solution to waste management,” she explains.
Madonsela expounds that, as per the Ellen Mc Arthur Foundation, the Circular Economy approach refers to the trade and use of products and services in closed cycles. Waste and pollution are designed out of the system; products and materials are kept in use; and natural systems are regenerated. In this way, a Circular Economy approach addresses the negative impacts of the linear economy and facilitates long-term resilience. This is in addition to the role that it plays in generating business and economic opportunities, while also providing many environmental and social advantages.
Through the Witzenberg Zero Waste to Landfill Pilot Project, JG Afrika and Circular-Vision demonstrated how a closed loop system can be introduced in the country’s municipalities. This was achieved by recycling as much of the waste generated from the pilot area (Tulbagh) as possible.
Meanwhile, the brand audit study assisted the municipality in identifying potential opportunities for closed loop take-back systems to reduce the amount of waste generated. Such systems also prevent material “leakage” by ensuring the longer-term use of products, equipment and infrastructure. It also provides financial benefits by supporting existing composting and recycling operations located within municipalities. This is in addition to the many new opportunities that the recycling of materials presents for the establishment of new businesses and the creation of employment prospects within the waste industry for all skills levels. These include, among others, the provision of collection, recycling, and composting services. For example, a local Tulbagh resident was appointed to assist with the composting of the food waste at her home. The project team helped with the establishment of the operation and provided ongoing mentoring throughout the pilot project.
Many important lessons were learnt during the pilot project, and these will inform the future rollout of Zero Waste to Landfill projects in the future. Challenges mainly related to low participation in the project, as well as the correct separation of waste.
Participation levels increased as the pilot project progressed. Homeowners were also more enthusiastic about the recycling component of the project than they were about the separation of organic or food waste. This is considering that a few residents were already composting food waste at home. JG Afrika and Circular-Vision believe that more composting should be encouraged by municipalities as the first available solution for diverting organic waste from landfill. The pilot project demonstrated that composting could provide a viable solution to diverting organic waste from landfill. While future phases of the project provide an opportunity to increase diversion of waste from landfill by composting and recycling, more residents need to participate to maximise the impact. Continued community education and awareness will help solve this challenge by improving the overall understanding of separation at source.
Some residents also did not separate waste correctly which motivates the need for continuous education and awareness. In some instances, dog faeces and food waste were disposed of in plastic bags as opposed to in paper bags, newspaper or compostable bags, potentially contaminating the composting process.
The majority of organic waste received at the compost facility consisted of garden residue, including lawn clippings, fresh and dry leaves, small branches and plant cuttings, as well as dog faeces. This slowed the composting process whereas a high percentage of food waste provides the moisture content and carbon that is needed to accelerate the process. However, the project team expects this to improve as residents become more informed when working on future projects.
“I am proud of our involvement in this project and the award from Construction World and Afrisam that acknowledges our effort. The pilot project has realised many benefits. The local community have been left with knowledge and understanding of waste management and the importance of diverting waste from landfill. Meanwhile, Witzenberg Municipality now has a Zero Waste to Landfill model that it can replicate for other towns in its jurisdiction. Importantly, it can also be adapted and implemented in other municipalities within South Africa to help solve a growing waste challenge,” Madonsela concludes.