National Waste Management Strategy: public hearings (day 1)

Water and Sanitation

29 May 2012
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental affairs was briefed by various departments on the submissions of stakeholders that were made during public consultations on the National Waste Management Strategy.

The Department of Environmental Affairs presented the key goals and targets that they had drafted in the National Waste Management Strategy.  The Department’s targets had been drawn up in accordance with the existing legal frameworks, norms and standards and guidelines, as contained in the Waste Act.  The Department was urged not to exclude mining waste from their definition of general landfill waste. The Department should continuously monitor the progress of municipalities in implementing the strategy, and should put mechanisms in place to ensure that local governments reached the targets that had been set.

The Department of Health said they supported the National Waste Management Strategy, but the responsibilities of Health Care Waste Management should be separated between the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Health.

The Chairperson stressed the importance of having norms and standards in every sector for people who applied for tenders, so that those who received tenders were capable of managing waste effectively.

The Department of Co-operative Governance criticised the National Waste Management Strategy  
for over-emphasising the monitoring of compliance from municipalities, while not focusing on how to provide support to local government. The Department also said the strategy did not indicate clearly enough the differences between municipalities, and how these differences would affect the implementation of the waste management plans.

The Chairperson addressed all the departments and said the waste sector should not be considered a burden, but rather a golden opportunity to generate revenue and create jobs for unskilled people. He suggested that government should change its entire approach to waste management.

Meeting report

The Chairperson thanked all the various departments for attending the meeting, which was the first of a three-day process of public hearings on the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS). The strategy had been written by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), and they presented their submissions first.

Department of Environmental Affairs presentation
Ms Nolwazi Cobbinah, Acting Deputy Director-General of Chemicals and Waste Management, DEA, said the NWMS had undergone extensive public participation, which was helpful for enriching the implementation of the strategy.

Mr Obed Bapela, Legal Director, DEA, reminded members about the National Environmental Management Waste Act that had been approved by government and which had come into effect in July 2009. He said the National Waste Management Strategy was a basic outline of how the Act should be implemented. Waste minimisation was necessary due to the rapid increase in urbanisation, and revenue in this sector amounted to R10bn annually. The NWMS was reviewed every five years, and its development included four phases: a research phase, an inception phase, a formulation phase, and a consultation and finalisation phase. The public participation process of the strategy was headed by a project steering committee and had seen inputs from the Department of Water Affairs, the Department of Health, the Department of Co-operative Governance, as well as representatives from the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), Business Unity South Africa and Cosatu. The consultation process had included workshops offered at all provincial departments and local authorities.

Key issues raised during Public Participation Process
Firstly, there was a discussion over the precise definition of waste and related terms, as contained in the Waste Act. It was also important to note what did not qualify as waste. Recycling experts asserted that after waste was re-used, recycled and recovered, it ceased to be waste, and the DEA therefore included these provisions in its interpretation of waste. The recommendations would be considered during the amendment of the Waste Act.

The Chairperson asked whether mining waste was included in the Waste Act’s definition.

Mr Bapela said the Waste Act excluded radioactive waste, residue deposits, and the disposal of animal carcasses, as these types of waste were regulated by the legislation in the National Petroleum Resources Development Act (NPRDA). 

Certain stakeholders wanted the definition of waste to exclude unused metal, though the DEA insisted that because metal parts had value, they could not be defined as waste.

Another issue that had been raised during public consultations was the implementation of the Waste Hierarchy. It had been decided that local municipalities were responsible for refuse removal and disposal, and they had to ensure that recyclable waste was separated from landfill waste. The norms and standards for waste collection were contained in the NWMS, and stakeholders were expected to comply with the regulations of the DEA. The DEA was busy drafting the norms and standards for the remediation of contaminated land. Where contaminated land was abandoned or the polluter could not be identified, government would have a Remediation Fund to deal with the remediation of such land. 

The Chairperson complained that Parliament was not receiving these draft documents, and that without them, not everyone could participate. He ordered the DEA to provide the committee with a package of all the legislative frameworks and drafts so that members could give their input before the drafts were finalised.

The goals of the NWMS for the next five years included increasing access to waste services delivery in rural areas to 75%, and ensuring that at least 80% of waste disposal sites had the correct permits. The waste sector also had to contribute to the green economy by creating more jobs.

The Chairperson asked why the targets were not absolute.  Why were they not aimed at 100%?  He said the Cabinet would not buy into the targets if they were so weak, because government priorities might change after five years.

Further goals of the NWMS included raising better awareness of the impact of waste on people’s health and the environment. The Waste Act required all municipalities to adhere to the provisions of the Integrated Waste Management Plan (IWMP) and the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). Waste budgeting was another key issue, and the DEA was assisting municipalities to conduct full-cost accounting for waste services, so that they would know the different tariffs and fees. In order to ensure compliance with the Waste Act targets, Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) would be designated to enhance the capacity of 800 additional Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) across all levels of government.

The Chairperson asked whether the NWMS stated whose responsibility it was to ensure the implementation of these targets.

Mr Bapela responded that all responsibilities and time frames were contained in the NWMS.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) said municipalities were central to achieving the targets of the NWMS, though many of them lacked understanding of waste management issues. How did the DEA aim to educate municipalities to reach these goals? He asked whether the DEA interacted with the Department of Education on the issue of raising awareness of the impact of waste management in schools. Finally, he asked how municipalities were expected to raise the money to deliver waste services.

Ms M Wenger (DA) said the NWMS was metro-centric and city-friendly, but it ignored waste service delivery to rural areas. Goals related to cost-effectiveness would not work in vast rural areas due to lack of information and infrastructure in these regions. Also, the NWMS did not make clear where recyclable waste had to be transported to, once it had been separated from landfill waste. Failure to transport waste swiftly would lead to accumulated waste that rotted and polluted the environment. She suggested that goals be implemented gradually in order to ensure their effectiveness. Finally, how did the DEA deal with cases where waste was dumped on contaminated sites without permission?

Mr G Morgan (DA) was sceptical of local government’s ability to implement the waste management strategies. He requested clarity on the DEA’s interaction with municipalities on the development of skills and human resources within local government. Was this a priority of the National Treasury? He asked whether the DEA had engaged with the banking sector on the issue of contaminated land, as many of these areas were owned by banks through individual home loans and mortgages. Was the banking sector aware of remediation costs when they awarded bonds? Also, given the modern technology that was available in the health care sector, why did anatomical waste get incinerated or transported across provinces before it could be treated? Was there no alternative way to treat or neutralise anatomical waste?

Dr S Huang (ANC) asked how the DEA planned to get the National Treasury to allocate money for a remediation fund. How did the DEA aim to deal with those waste disposal sites which did not have the correct permits? What was meant by the 80% implementation of waste awareness programmes in schools? Finally, he asked how the DEA dealt with remediation plans for contaminated sites that were abandoned.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) said the issue of mining waste in rural areas remained a big challenge, and should thus be addressed by the DEA.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) highlighted the fact that in rural areas, waste was dumped illegally near household environments. Did the DEA have plans to improve recycling infrastructure in rural municipalities?

Ms Cobbinah said she was aware of the challenge of capacity in municipalities. The DEA had had numerous engagements with SALGA and DCoG on these particular issues. The department had been successful in getting the National Treasury to increase funding allocations for municipalities so they could afford the costs of implementing waste management strategies. Local government faced the challenge of having to calculate the costs and tariffs that were charged for delivering waste services. The DEA had set up a Tariff Setting Model to give municipalities an idea of what the services cost. Local councils could use this pricing system to decide what to charge residents for waste management services.

The 80% level of waste awareness raised in schools was just a target, and not something that had been achieved yet. 

The DEA had a unit within the Department of Education (DOE), namely the Sector Education and Training Department, though it did not form part of the chemicals and waste branch because it serviced the whole of the DOE. This unit interacted with all portfolios in the DOE, so when the DEA engaged with the DOE it thus received input from all of them.

The Chairperson said it was not necessary to go into detail about each public consultation that the DEA had had.  Instead, the DEA should explain what mechanisms they had in place to ensure that targets were met.

Ms Cobbinah addressed the NWMS’s target of implementing local awareness programmes at 80% of municipalities. The DEA had produced a concept document that outlined how young people would be employed in municipalities and be made responsible for environmental awareness campaigns. 

The Chairperson said it was more important for the DEA to focus on how it planned to continuously monitor the DOE and local municipalities in order to ensure that the targets of the NWMS were met.

Ms Cobbinah said the NWMS prioritised cooperative governance. The strategy mentioned a task team made up of SALGA, DCoG, Treasury and the DEA, who would follow structures to monitor the implementation of capacity building in municipalities. Similarly, a task team made up of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), Treasury and the DEA would set out to monitor the implementation of the remediation of contaminated land.

She went on to say that the R10bn mentioned in the NWMS was not the budget of the DEA, but just an estimate of the annual amount that the waste sector contributed to the economy.

The Chairperson asked whether it was at all possible to make the mining sector part of the NWMS.

Mr Sibusiso Shabalala, Legal Director, DEA, said the Ministers of both the DEA and the DMR had set up task teams to examine ways of amending waste management legislation so that it aligned mining waste with general waste.

Ms Cobbinah said the DEA had spoken to Cabinet about the issue of a Remediation Fund. The department had requested that funding be allocated to allow for the remediation of contaminated land, particularly mining areas that became contaminated through secondary asbestos. The remediation plan in the NWMS would build on these talks with Cabinet.

Mr Bapela said the banking sector was concerned with the devaluation of land once it became contaminated. Once the sector had gathered more information on contaminated land and established how this would impact on their loaning system, they would brief the DEA on these issues.

On the issue of treatment of anatomical waste, he said the DEA did not prescribe the technologies that should be used in the health care sector. Whether the sector practiced incineration or another method, the DEA was only concerned with whether or not the sector complied with environmental norms and standards. 

Department of Health presentation
Ms Aneliswa Cele, Director for Environmental Health, DOH, said her department would use the NWMS to manage health care risk waste. The NWMS took cognisance of Section 24 of the Constitution, which stated that everyone had the right to an environment that was not harmful to their health. The NWMS would contribute to the harmonisation of waste management in all medical institutions across both public and private sectors. The role of the DOH was to advise the DEA on appropriate norms and standards of waste management in the health sector. At local government level, Environmental Health Practitioners would be appointed as Environmental Management Inspectors, who would then be responsible for ensuring that municipalities implemented norms and standards. The NWMS sufficiently addressed the issues that concerned the DOH.

The Chairperson asked whether the DOH was bound by the norms and standards set out by the DEA.

Ms Cele said that the DOH and the DEA were engaging to draft regulations that stipulated how the responsibilities of Health Care Waste Management would be separated between the two departments.

Ms Cobbinah confirmed this, saying that the DEA had a meeting scheduled with Treasury to initiate public consultations on the draft regulations, in order to obtain public input on waste treatment in the health sector.

The Chairperson reminded both departments to send the Portfolio Committee a copy of the draft regulations.

Mr Morgan was concerned with the awarding of tenders to those who dealt with Health Care Risk Waste. Tenders were often awarded to people before checking to see whether they had access to treatment facilities. As a result, waste was dumped illegally, which led to costly court cases against those responsible. The DOH was in fact complicit in these irregularities, as they were responsible for all Health Care Risk Waste until it was appropriately treated and disposed. So, to what extent was the DOH working with provincial governments to ensure that tenders were awarded to people who were fit and capable to carry out the treatment of this highly hazardous waste? 

Mr Mathebe said private health practitioners who disposed of waste in rural areas were not monitored effectively. Who was responsible for monitoring them: municipalities, the DOH, or the DEA?

Ms Cele said health was a concurrent function of government. Therefore, tenders were awarded at provincial level, though the national department was responsible for providing guidelines/terms of reference for the tender process.

The Chairperson reminded Ms Cele of Section 125 of the Constitution, and alluded to the fact that if waste disposal was not implemented effectively at provincial level, the National Department of Health had the power to usurp that function. He told Ms Cele that if the tender problem persisted, she should consider applying this constitutional provision to resolve the issue. He also asked whether there were norms and standards in place to ensure that tenders were awarded only to those who were capable of treating waste effectively.

Ms Cele responded that the Director-General from the DOH had taken the initiative to set up a draft document that contained norms and standards. She said she would ensure that the document was circulated among members shortly. 

Ms Cobbinah acknowledged that the awarding of tenders remained problematic. The DEA worked in collaboration with the DOH to set up a Health Care Risk Waste Segregation System.  The system allowed for a tender specification to be incorporated into the adjudication process for tenders that were advertised.

Mr Rhamphelane Morewane, Chief Director, DOH, conceded that it remained a challenge to ensure that the receivers of tenders complied with departmental standards. He said NGOs and better public participation -- such as general practitioners, old age homes, and nursing homes -- could assist government in monitoring compliance by managers of Health Care Risk Waste.  

Mr Mathebe asked whether the public knew how, when and where to become involved in the grass-roots implementation of waste management practices.

Mr Morewane said all offices and facilities of the DOH acted as a source of information for anyone who wished to raise a concern about health. In terms of social mobilisation, the DOH had initiated social health promotion programmes, which entailed social care workers at ward level doing door-to-door work in their communities. 

The Chairperson said waste management was a practice that cut across departments. He stressed to Ms Cobbinah the importance of having norms and standards in place for everyone who received tenders for waste management, such as health waste and tyre waste.

Department of Co-operative Governance (DCoG) presentation
Ms Madjadji Malahlela, Chief Director for Development and Planning, DCoG, said the NWMS had been set up in accordance with legislative provisions such as the Constitution and the Municipal Structures Act. These legal frameworks stated that district, local and metro municipalities all had different functions in relation to waste management, which required a differentiated approach to planning, financing and support.  The DCoG supported the NWMS, although it asserted that the strategy focused too much on compliance from municipalities with departmental standards, while disregarding realistic, implementable support plans to enhance the financial and administrative capabilities of local government. Also, the NWMS did not indicate clearly enough the differences between municipalities, and how these differences would affect the implementation of waste management. Ms Malahlela suggested that in addition to five-year targets, the strategy should include mid-term milestones to monitor progress. 

The Chairperson said it was important that mechanisms were put in place so that the targets of the NWMS could be achieved. Another crucial issue was the integration of all departments affected by the strategy, so that progress of implementation could be monitored effectively.

Ms Wenger asked the DCoG to elaborate on its plans to move away from issues of compliance, and focus more on financial and administrative capacity-building at local government level. She also asked how the issue of permits would be dealt with.

Ms Malahlela responded that the Integrated Waste Management Plans of municipalities only explained that they should comply with departmental standards, but they did not explain how the services would be rendered in a practical way. She said that assistance from the DCoG to municipalities was problematic, because it created more expectations from DCoG.  For example, if the department assisted municipalities with waste plans, they might expect further assistance with housing plans or water plans.

Ms Manganye asked how the national departments would ensure that the issue of waste management was taken on board in municipalities. Implementation of the NWMS would be the biggest challenge.

The Chairperson asked whether all municipalities had a blueprint of what a waste management plan should look like. He suggested that the DCoG, the DEA and the DOH sit down and discuss the layout of specific waste management plans, taking into account the differences between all 278 municipalities. Once this was done, task teams could be established to help municipalities with the implementation of their plans.

Ms Malahlela agreed that each municipality had different priorities and each should thus have different waste management plans.

Ms Cobbinah said the departments did have toolkits in place, which were similar to blueprints. Municipalities were trained to gather information such as population size and amount of waste, and then to use this information to develop their own non-generic waste management plan.

The Chairperson asserted that although these toolkits sounded very good, the results were certainly not visible on the ground. It did not help to assist provinces and municipalities in setting up a plan, and then have no mechanism in place to ensure the sustained implementation of that plan. He said the DEA and DOH must come up with a plan to ensure that municipalities physically implemented their respective waste management plans. He ordered them to report back to the committee in no more than three months.

South African Local Government Association (SALGA) presentation
Mr Marvelous Nengovhela, Waste Management Specialist, SALGA, said that leadership and oversight abilities in municipalities should be enhanced to ensure the effective implementation of the NWMS. Local government was positioned at the lower end of the waste management hierarchy, thus it was responsible for the treatment and disposal of waste. SALGA appreciated the DEA’s efforts to appoint Waste Management Officers at the municipal level to coordinate their waste management functions. Waste management services in municipalities should be given equal priority compared to other services, like water or electricity. SALGA recommended that the DEA train technical directors and Chief Financial Officers at local government level. Also, to ensure effective implementation of the NWMS, sufficient financial resources must be allocated to municipalities.  

The Chairperson objected, and said that municipalities did not necessarily need more money from the Fiscus if they were able to get the private sector involved. The waste sector was a very lucrative industry and municipalities could create employment by outsourcing certain services to private companies.

Mr Nengovhela said it was unclear to municipalities what it cost to provide waste management services. SALGA acknowledged that the DEA had developed a model to assist municipalities in calculating the price of service delivery.

The Chairperson addressed all the departments and said the waste sector should not be considered a burden, but rather a golden opportunity to generate revenue and create jobs for unskilled people. He suggested that government should change its entire approach to waste management.

Ms Wenger raised the issue of ageing equipment and infrastructure in municipalities. Were there any plans to replace these? She also mentioned that trade unions would resist plans to privatise the waste management sector.

The Chairperson acknowledged Ms Wenger’s point. He said requests for a bigger budget allocation were justified in the case of it being used to replace outdated equipment and run-down infrastructure. He also said that if municipalities lacked the funding to provide waste management services, and privatisation proved to be the only plausible option, then government should bite the bullet and allow the private sector to become involved.

Dr Huang asked why there was no representative of a municipality present at the public hearing. He said it would be very insightful for members to hear from someone who worked in a municipality.

Ms Cobbinah said the NWMS had made provision for the private sector to become involved in waste service delivery as well as in replacing infrastructure and equipment. There existed room for major improvement in the area of installing or reinvigorating recycling facilities. She said the failure to involve the private sector was due to the lack of skills among those who made waste management decisions at local government level. The DEA and SALGA had thus worked together to train 250 counsellors across the country, except for Limpopo, though work there would commence shortly.

The Chairperson asked Ms Cobbinah whether the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of SA (REDISA) case had been sorted out.

Ms Cobbinah responded that REDISA’s waste tyre plan had been through another round of public participation. The plan had been published in April 2012 for comment in the Government Gazette for a period of 30 days. REDISA would now consider these comments, make the necessary amendments, submit its waste tyre plan to the DEA, and then the minister will choose to either accept the plan or not. Furthermore, the tyre waste plan of the South African Tyre Recycling Project (SATRP) was rejected by the Minister, who ordered it to be resubmitted. The DEA was scheduled to brief SATRP on recommendations before their plan was resubmitted.

The Chairperson said he would write to the Directors-General of the Department of Water and the Department of Human Settlements. He hoped the DG’s would react to these letters.  He said there seemed to be general consensus on the NWMS, but he urged the various departments to coordinate their work to ensure the physical implementation of the strategy and to further assist municipalities.

He reminded Ms Cobbinah to consult all other relevant departments and submit to the Portfolio Committee within a week all existing legal frameworks pertaining to waste management, as well as to identify any guidelines that still needed to be put in place.

The Chairperson thanked everyone for their participation in the public hearing and the meeting was adjourned.

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