Waste Management

Apparently, by 08h23 on Thursday 24 May 2018 – that is, just short of 5 months into the year – 39 273 828 cell phones had been thrown away in the United States. During the same period, over 19 billion plastic bottles had been produced, of which only 4 billion had been recycled.1 The United States recycles less than a third of its garbage – on simple arithmetic, it has to find something to do with many millions of tons of garbage every year. Sweden, on the other hand, is an importer of garbage. That is because its recycling policies and practices are so sophisticated and advanced that it needs garbage. The reason for this? To fuel its 32 waste-to-energy electricity generating plants, which power 20% of its district heating, and about 250 000 homes.2

In South Africa, we might not have the same garbage problems, but a problem it certainly is. This is what the National Environmental Management: Waste Act 2008 is all about: protecting the environment by regulating waste management, and providing for the prevention of pollution and ecological degradation.

The Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Environmental Affairs but it is the MEC in each province who is, respectively, responsible for the implementation of the national waste management strategy, and the national norms and standards set by the Minister.

For the purposes of the Act, ‘waste’ means:

Any of the above substances, once re-used, recycled or recovered, cease to be ‘waste’.

A. Waste management measures and plans

  1. The Minister can declare certain waste to be treated as ‘priority’, because it poses a threat to health, well-being or the environment. He will then declare that specific measures to manage this waste are to be put in place. Any person who fails to comply with a waste management measure specified in a Government Notice commits an offence.3

  2. Another consequence of such a declaration is that it is an offence to import, manufacture, process, sell or export such ‘priority waste’, or a product likely to result in the generation of priority waste, unless the waste (or product) complies with:
    • any specific waste management measures;4
    • any industrial waste management plan; and5
    • any other requirement in the Act.6
  3. It is also an offence to recycle, recover, treat or dispose of ‘priority waste’ unless in accordance with the Act and the specific waste management measures.7

  4. There are many different activities that exist to manage waste. However, the Minister has declared that, in respect of certain of them8 (namely those likely to have a detrimental effect on the environment) a licence is required. It is an offence to commence, undertake or conduct such waste management activities except with a licence, and in accordance with the licence.9

  5. The Minister has also10 declared, in respect of other waste management activities, that certain requirements, norms and standards must be met.11 It is an offence to fail to comply with such requirements and standards.12

  6. Where any activity results in the generation of waste that affects more than one province, or where such activity is conducted in more than one province, the Minister may require an industry waste management plan to be submitted for approval. Any person, category of persons, or industry so required to do so who fails to submit this plan commits an offence.13

  7. The Minister may even require an organ of State to prepare an industry waste plan, and an MEC can do likewise to his provincial department responsible for environmental affairs. In turn, they can require any person to furnish information needed for the preparation of the plan. If you are requested and fail to provide such information, you are guilty of an offence.14

  8. It is an offence to fail to comply with an industry waste management plan.15

B. General obligations

  1. Any person who holds waste16 bears a number of obligations. In particular, it is a criminal offence, should a holder of waste fail to:
    • ensure that the waste is treated and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner;17
    • manage the waste in a manner that does not:18
      • endanger health;
      • endanger the environment;
      • cause a nuisance through noise, smell or sight;
      • prevent contravention of the Act by any employee;19
      • prevent the waste from being used for an unauthorised purpose.20

C. Reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery

  1. The Minister can promulgate notices requiring any person, or category of persons, to provide for practices like recycling, or reduction (for example, by incineration). It is an offence not to comply with such a notice.21 22

  2. The Minister may also, by notice, require a determined percentage of recycled material to be included in a certain product produced, imported or manufactured. It is a criminal offence not to comply with this notice.23 24

  3. The same goes for so-called ‘extended producer responsibility’ measures. These are measures extending the financial or physical responsibility for a product to the post-consumer stage. It is an offence not to comply with any such measures.25 26

D. Residue stockpiles and deposits

As defined in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002:

  1. It is an offence not to manage residue stockpiles and residue deposits otherwise than in the prescribed manner, on a site demarcated for that purpose in the environmental management plan or environmental management programme for that prospecting mining, exploration or production operation.27

  2. It is an offence to deposit (even only temporarily) any residue stockpile or residue deposit on any site other than one demarcated as mentioned above.28

E. Disposal29 and litter30

  1. It is an offence to dispose of waste in or on any land, body of water, or at any facility unless it has been authorised by the Minister or respective MEC.31

  2. It is an offence to cause, or permit waste to be disposed of unless it has been so authorised.32

  3. No person may dispose of waste in a manner that is likely to cause:
    • pollution of the environment; or
    • harm to health and well-being,

    and it is an offence to do so.33

  4. It is a crime to litter!34

  5. It is a crime to allow anyone under your control to litter.

F. Storage, collection and transportation

  1. If you store35 waste, it is a crime if you do not take steps to:
    • ensure the containers in which it is stored are intact, not corroded or otherwise unfit for the safe storage of waste;36
    • prevent accidental spillage or leaking;37
    • ensure that it cannot blow away;38
    • prevent visual and odour nuisance;39
    • prevent the breeding of disease carriers;40
    • prevent pollution of the environment, or harm to health.41
  2. It is a crime if you, as a normal suburban resident who generates waste that is collected by the municipality, fail to:
    • put the waste in a container approved or provided by the municipality; or42
    • put the container in a spot approved or authorised by the municipality.43
  3. No person may collect waste, for removal from premises, unless he is:
    • a municipality;44 or
    • a municipal service provider;45 or
    • authorised by law to do so; or46
    • not prohibited from collecting that waste,47

    and commits a crime by doing otherwise.

  4. Any person transporting hazardous waste48 (for purposes other than disposal) commits an offence if, before offloading the waste:49
    • he neglects to ensure that the place in question is authorised to accept the waste; and
    • he does not obtain written confirmation that the waste has been accepted.
  5. A person who is in control of a vehicle (or in a position to control the use of a vehicle) that is used to transport waste for the purpose of offloading that waste, is guilty of an offence if that person:
    • fails to take all reasonable steps to prevent spillage of waste, or littering from the vehicle;50
    • intentionally or negligently causes spillage or littering from the vehicle;51
    • disposes of waste at a facility which is not authorised to accept such waste;52 or
    • fails to ensure that waste is disposed of at a facility that is authorised to accept such waste.53

G. Contaminated land

  1. An owner of land that is significantly contaminated, or a person who undertakes an activity that caused the land to be significantly contaminated, must notify the Minister and MEC of the contamination as soon as he becomes aware of the contamination. It is an offence not to do so.54

  2. The Minister (or a MEC) can require a site assessment, and a site assessment report to be submitted, in respect of land which is either contaminated or where contamination is likely. It is an offence not to comply with any directive in this regard.55

  3. After considering the report(s), the Minister (or MEC) may decide that the area in question requires remediation56 or that other measures must be taken. It is a crime not to comply with any orders in this regard from the Minister or MEC.57

  4. If is an offence to transfer contaminated land without informing the purchaser that the land is contaminated.58

  5. If the land is a declared remediation site, it is an offence also not to inform the Minister (or MEC), and failing to comply with any conditions they set.

H. Licensing and exemption

  1. Where hazardous waste is involved, licences are required for its storage, treatment or disposal – so called ‘waste management activities’. The procedure of an application for such a licence involves input from and coordination with different authorities, but in the end the licence is likely to incorporate conditions which the various authorities require. Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with a condition or requirement of this licence commits an offence.59

  2. The Minister (or MEC) can grant exemption from any of the provisions in the Act. This exemption must be applied for, and if it is granted, there are likely to be conditions imposed by the Minister. It is an offence to contravene, or fail to comply with any such condition.60

  3. Any person who supplies false or misleading information in any application for a waste management licence, or exemption (or for any other application in terms of the Act) commits an offence.61

I. Inspectors and information

Environmental management inspectors are appointed by the Minister and their task, in short, is enforcement and compliance.

  1. An inspector can require you to submit a waste impact report if he suspects that you have contravened the Act, or any licence conditions, and that your doing so had (or is likely to have) a detrimental effect on health or the environment. It is an offence if you fail to submit such a report.62

  2. An inspector can also require you to submit a waste impact report whenever a review of your waste management licence is to take place. It is an offence to fail to submit this report.63

  3. It is a crime to furnish false or misleading information to an inspector (or waste management officer) for any purpose in terms of the Act.64

  4. The Minister (or MEC) can call for data, samples, documents, etc. for the purposes of the national waste information system, and the management of waste. Any municipality required to supply these things can call on you, in turn, to provide material so as to enable it to discharge its obligations. It is an offence if you fail to do so.65

  1. The meters on Poodwaddle Earth move so quickly it is astounding. See See the ‘sources’ tab for the sources of data Poodwaddle crunches in its various displays. 

  2. – ‘Sweden Runs out of Garbage.’ 

  3. Section 14(1) read with section 14(4) and section 67(1)(e). 

  4. Section 15(1)(a) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  5. Section 15(1)(b) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  6. Section 15(1)(1) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  7. Section 15(2) read with section 14(4) and section 57(1)(a). 

  8. These are listed in Government Notice 921 of 29 November 2013 (as amended – the latest amendment was on 11 October 2017). 

  9. Section 20(b) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  10. In the same Notice. 

  11. See Regulation 5(c). 

  12. Section 20(a) read with section 19(3) and section 67(1)(a); 67(1)(f). 

  13. Section 28 read with section 67(1)(c). 

  14. Section 29(5) read with section 29(1) and section 67(1)(m). 

  15. Section 67(1)(d). 

  16. A ‘holder’ is anyone who imports, generates, stores, accumulates, transports, processes, treats, exports, or disposes of waste. 

  17. Section 16(1)(c) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  18. Section 16(1)(d) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  19. Section 16(1)(e) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  20. Section 16(1)(f) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  21. As far as I have been able to ascertain, no such notice has been published. 

  22. Section 17(2)(a) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  23. As far as I have been able to ascertain, no such notice has been published. 

  24. Section 17(2)(b) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  25. Fortunately for the plastic bag industry, I guess, no such measures seem to have been promulgated… yet. 

  26. Section 16(1)(d) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  27. Section 16(1)(e) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  28. Section 16(1)(f) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  29. This means to bury, deposit, discharge, abandon, dump, place or release any waste into or onto land. 

  30. This means to throw, drop, deposit, spill, or in any other way discard any litter into or onto any public place, land, vacant erf, stream, waterway, street, or road, or on any place to which the general public has access – except a place or container specifically provided for that purpose. 

  31. Section 26(1)(a) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  32. Section 26(1)(a) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  33. Section 26(1)(b) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  34. Section 27(2)(a) read with section 67(1)(b) and section 67(1)(b). 

  35. This means accumulate waste, but not treatment or disposal. 

  36. Section 21(a) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  37. Section 21(b) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  38. Section 21(c) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  39. Section 21(d) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  40. Section 21(d) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  41. Section 21(e) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  42. Section 22(1) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  43. Section 22(1) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  44. Section 24(a) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  45. Section 24(a) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  46. Section 24(b) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  47. Section 24(c) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  48. This means any waste that contains organic or inorganic elements or compounds that may (owing to the waste’s inherent characteristics) have a detrimental impact on health and the environment. 

  49. Section 25(4) read with section 67(2)(e). 

  50. Section 67(2)(a). 

  51. Section 67(2)(b). 

  52. Section 67(2)(c). 

  53. Section 67(2)(d). 

  54. Section 36(5) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  55. Section 37(1) read with section 67(1)(g). 

  56. Remediation means the action of remedying something – i.e. reversing environmental damage. 

  57. Section 38(2) and (3) read with section 67(1)(a). 

  58. Section 40(1) read with section 67(1)(b). 

  59. Section 44 read with section 67(1)(h). 

  60. Section 76(3)(c) read with section 67(1)(j). 

  61. Section 67(1)(k). 

  62. Section 66(1) read with section 67(1)(i). 

  63. Section 66(2) read with section 53 and section 67(1)(i). 

  64. Section 67(1)(1). 

  65. Section 63(4) read with section 67(1)(m).