National Waste Management strategy: public hearings (day 3)

Water and Sanitation

31 May 2012
Chairperson: Adv J de Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs was briefed by various organisations and stakeholders, who raised concerns over certain aspects of the National Waste Management Strategy.

Business Unity South Africa said the Department of Environmental Affairs should review its interpretation of terms such as “waste”,” reuse”, “recycling” and “recovery” so that it suited the different challenges and priorities of various provincial departments.  Also, the regulations contained in the Waste Act did not make provision for a clear, unambiguous, stepwise approach to dealing with the issue of contaminated land. 

The Chairperson made several suggestions: the definition of waste should be broad, and ministerial exemption should be put in place to deal with any unintended consequences; the Department should use the National Waste Management Strategy to draft a guide that would explain the strategy in simple, practical terms; and the Department should arrange a two or three-day workshop/conference with all industry stakeholders to provide clarity on areas of disagreement. Business Unity South Africa embraced all three of the Chairperson’s suggestions.

The Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association said the National Waste Management Strategy did not make provision for the role of industries and associations. The industry waste management plans contained in the strategy were presented in a generic, cure-all manner, and charged a levy for most of the development projects pursued by industries. The Association warned that a proliferation of levies would become problematic, for the South African Revenue Service might be reluctant to collect such taxes and the money was not likely to be injected back into the environmental sector. 

The Centre for Environmental Rights said that given the extreme challenges of waste management, an over-reliance on self-regulation of industries was unlikely to be successful.  Industries would comply with regulation only if those who evaded compliance were caught and punished. Therefore, there was a need to monitor and enforce serious disincentives to non-compliance.  Very few municipalities had an Integrated Waste Management Plan.  Additional capacity challenges at local government level, such as a lack of appropriately qualified staff, made it nearly impossible for municipalities to implement the provisions of the Waste Act. 

The presentation by Groundwork, a non-governmental organisation, addressed the importance of creating jobs through the National Waste Management Strategy. It said incineration of waste was harmful to the environment, and that the Department should consider implementing alternative methods for treating waste. It also raised concerns over the fact that poor communities located near waste incineration sites were vulnerable to the hazards of burning waste.

Issues raised by Members included businesses using technicalities to avoid compliance with the Act, methods of waste reporting by the business sector, the role of municipalities in monitoring or enforcing waste management, the status of a moratorium on incinerators, and the tyre levy being used unfairly by the cement industry, to the detriment of the environment.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the third and final day of public hearings on the National Waste Management Strategy. The purpose of the hearings was to assist the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in drafting the strategy. Even though the strategy would be reviewed in five years’ time, it was necessary to deal with all of its inadequacies before then. Furthermore, the public hearings were aimed at developing a better understanding of waste management and sanitation issues.

Business Unity South Africa presentation
Ms Laurraine Lotter, Executive Director, Business Unity South Africa, said her presentation was focused on proposing certain amendments to the Waste Act.  BUSA and various provincial authorities had objected to the DEA’s interpretation of waste.  She asserted that surplus waste should be excluded from the definition, as such raw material would prove useful at a later stage, when a particular production line was reintroduced to the market.  BUSA agreed with the DEA that once the generator of waste had no further use for it, or it needed to be treated and disposed of, it should be classified as waste and treated as such.

According to the DEA’s interpretation of “by-product”, such a substance should demonstrate the chemical and physical characteristics of an equivalent virgin product or material.  Ms Lotter explained that the process of chlorine production resulted in the production of sodium hydroxide as a by-product.  However, because an equivalent to the by-product did not exist in nature, the production of sodium hydroxide would be a contravention of the Waste Act.  Therefore BUSA recommended that the DEA should review its definition of “by-product” to make it more flexible. If a less conservative definition were adopted, the Minister of the DEA would still have the executive power to identify something as waste if it proved necessary.

The terms “reuse”, “recycling” and “recovery” should also be reviewed to ensure that they suited the different challenges and priorities of each of provincial department.  BUSA said the regulations contained in the Waste Act did not make provision for a clear, unambiguous, stepwise approach to dealing with the issue of contaminated land. 

The Chairperson asked which part of the regulations did not allow for such an approach.

Ms Lotter responded that the regulations excluded ministerial intervention, and thus required businesses to initiate action in cases of contaminated land.  BUSA requested that the DEA review the regulations and consider certain amendments so that the regulations would be in accordance with the Waste Act.

Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association presentation
Ms Lotter said the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) did not make provision for the role of industries and associations. The industry waste management plans contained in the NWMS were presented in a generic, cure-all manner, and charged a levy for most of the development projects pursued by industries. Ms Lotter warned that a proliferation of levies would become problematic, for SARS might be reluctant to collect such taxes and the money was not likely to be injected back into the environmental sector.

BUSA asserted that the issue of co-regulation created difficulties for industrial businesses. The role of industries was to produce products for society while complying with the environmental legislation as set out by the state. 

The Chairperson asked what role industry played in co-regulation.

Ms Lotter responded that the NWMS did not state clearly enough the role of key players in the co-regulatory process. She suggested that BUSA and the DEA discuss the process of co-regulation so that there could be clarity on the issue. The regulations in the NWMS stated that compliance to norms and standards was optional. This created a false impression among industries, because the reality was that compliance to norms and standards became mandatory for all industries once the regulations were gazetted.

BUSA supported the need to provide provincial departments with accurate information on waste flows, as this was imperative for any environmental organisation.

There was no reason to wait until 2016 before implementing the use of economic instruments as incentives for improving waste management. However, any such instruments should be developed in terms of existing legislation such as the Income Tax Act or the incentive schemes that were managed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). 

The NWMS had stated that the process of declaring priority waste would be guided by a steering committee. However, BUSA said that the Waste Act did not allow for such power to be exercised. According to the Act, priority waste could only be declared after thorough consultation with the public or any affected persons.

The Waste Act specified that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) might only be required after consultation with the Minister of Trade and Industry and then only where it could be demonstrated that such measures were required to give effect to the objectives of the Act.  The NWMS did not reflect the need to consult with the affected producers, a requirement that was specifically stated in the Waste Act. 
The NWMS made reference to radioactive materials, although these were not controlled under the Waste Act.  The provision of guidelines within the NWMS on how to deal with EPRs was irrelevant, as such decisions remained at the discretion of the Minister of the DEA.

Ms Lotter concluded that the NWMS failed to clarify government thinking.  Furthermore, the strategy did not recognise the complexity of the Waste Act, as its provisions were not in line with the norms and standards of the Act.

Discussion
Mr B Holomisa (UDM) suggested that before members made comments on the presentation, the legal advisors from the DEA should first state whether or not BUSA’s assertions were in accordance with legal norms.   

The Chairperson said he did not wish to do that, for it would lead to an undesired confrontation between the DEA and BUSA.  Instead, he suggested that the DEA compile a document that contained all of BUSA’s proposals, after which the Department should report back to the committee on how it planned to deal with the recommendations.  

Mr Holomisa accepted the Chairperson’s sentiment. He mentioned that big businesses were often accused of violating laws such as those contained in the Waste Act.  The Committee did not want to give in to the pressure of businesses who wished to capitalise on technicalities.  Did BUSA want the Act to be amended or did it want the rules and regulations to be tightened?

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked if BUSA had any suggestions on how to implement waste reporting mechanisms, or how to ensure that compliance within the industry was enforced.

Ms Lotter responded that the DTI had developed mechanisms for waste reporting by means of a web-based programme that collected waste data from all registered members on an annual basis. She said the Department had urged all industries to comply with the minimum norms and standards as contained in the Waste Act.

The Chairperson recommended that the DEA use the NWMS to draft a guide that would explain the strategy in simple, practical terms.  He said it would always remain problematic to reach consensus on the definition of waste. A possible solution could be to create a mechanism of exemption for the Minister. In this way, if there were ever a dispute over whether or not something should be classified as waste, the ultimate decision would lie with the Minister. The definition should be broad, and the appropriate mechanism should be in place to deal with any unintended consequences.

Ms Lotter said the Waste Act was a long-needed piece of legislation, because it demanded that all role players bring their activities closer in line with legal provisions. To further improve compliance with the Act, the DEA should not use its terminology loosely. Ms Lotter mentioned that the DEA had excluded fly ash from their definition of waste; however, most industries were still under the impression that fly ash qualified as waste. BUSA thus urged the DEA to be clear and unambiguous in the messages it sent out to the public.

BUSA supported the Chairperson’s suggestion that a process of exemption for the Minister should be implemented. Such a process would be onerous, and it was crucial that the criteria around the process were tightened up and clarified.

The Chairperson proposed that the DEA should arrange a two or three-day workshop/conference with all industry stakeholders. If all the role players sat down and discussed the NWMS in practical terms it would assist the DEA to identify the problem areas and difficulties of the strategy. There was no guarantee that such a meeting would lead to agreement or consensus, but at least it would help to clarify any misunderstandings.

Mr Mathebe asked if there were any plans in place to ensure that municipalities were empowered to enforce compliance from industries within their areas of jurisdiction.

Ms Lotter responded that the Waste Act was a highly complex piece of legislation and it did not give local authorities the power to enforce compliance. Municipalities should rather focus on delivering water, sanitation and electricity services.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) asked whether BUSA accepted the Chairperson’s suggestion of holding a workshop/conference.

Ms Lotter said she embraced the Chairperson’s idea of holding a workshop. It would be fantastic if all the stakeholders could come together and discuss their grievances in order to reflect on possible ways of finding solutions.

The Chairperson said the workshop should aim to address the areas of disagreement among the key role players. He said he disagreed with BUSA’s objection to co-regulation of industries. It was vital to regulate waste management within the industrial sector because the hazards were extremely dangerous. Considering the potential negative consequences of inadequate waste management, industries could not be expected to regulate themselves. It was necessary for government to enforce compliance and suspend industries’ licences when norms and standards were not met. 

The Chairperson thanked Ms Lotter for her presentations. He said the DEA was scheduled to report back to the Portfolio Committee within three months. If everything went according to plan the workshop/conference with all stakeholders would have been held by that time, and there would thus be greater clarity on the NWMS.

Centre for Environmental Rights presentation
Ms Robyn Hugo, Staff Attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), said there were certain aspects of the NWMS that should be improved in order for it to achieve the objectives of the Waste Act. She agreed with the Chairperson that the NWMS should be more practical so that it could be more effectively enforced. The CER suggested that the strategy should contain short-, medium- and long-term objectives in order to monitor and measure whether government and other role players were on track with reaching the strategy’s goals. Certain targets within the NWMS did not have a baseline, which made it very difficult to monitor compliance.

Ms Hugo said that given the extreme challenge of waste management, an over-reliance on self-regulation of industries was unlikely to be successful.  Industries would comply with regulation only if those who evaded compliance were caught and punished. Therefore, there was a need to monitor and enforce serious disincentives to non-compliance.

During its research, the CER had found that very few municipalities had an Integrated Waste Management Plan (IWMP). Additional capacity challenges at local government level, such as a lack of appropriately qualified staff, made it nearly impossible for municipalities to implement the provisions of the Waste Act.  The NWMS did not provide sufficient details as to how the coordinated capacity-building programme for local government would be implemented.

The NWMS set a target for 800 Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) to be appointed at local and provincial levels within five years. The latest National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report stated there were only 413 EMIs in South Africa, so the CER considered the NWMS’s target as being overly ambitious.  The DEA should provide more detail about the appointment of EMIs. What was the expected time frame? How many EMIs would be newly appointed, and how many would be existing EMIs? Would these inspectors be committed to compliance and enforcement of the Waste Act?

There were no comments from Committee Members.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Hugo for her presentation. He said there was a good balance between BUSA and the CER’s approach to the issue of self-regulation of industry. The challenge of capacity in government was a serious problem, though it was very difficult to address this challenge across three spheres of government. The chances that progress would be made in one province or one municipality were fairly good, but widespread capacity improvement was unlikely because government did not consider waste management to be a top priority.

Groundwork presentation
Mr Musa Chamane, Waste Manager, Groundwork, said the non-governmental organisation was pleased with the NWMS and the Waste Act, but it felt there were certain aspects that needed to be reviewed. Government should assist in promoting the recycling sector because there were numerous opportunities to create sustainable, dignified jobs in this field.  However, the lack of funding, sufficient infrastructure and specific by-laws at local government level made it difficult for municipalities to encourage growth in the recycling sector.

Groundwork said that incineration of waste was a flawed solution because the practice was bad for the environment and it offered little employment potential for the unskilled masses.  Mr Chamane mentioned the “green levy” that was charged against new tyre purchases. The cement industry took advantage of this levy by producing energy by means of tyre incineration instead of burning coal. Groundwork said the tyre levy should be allocated toward improving recycling facilities.

Mr Chamane said there were many poor communities that were vulnerable to the harmful effects of waste incineration. Groundwork suggested that strong regulations, adequate monitoring and tough enforcement should be employed to protect both the public and the environment.

Health Care Risk Waste (HCRW) regulations stated that anatomical waste could be treated only through incineration. Mr Chamane said the DEA should rather prescribe methods such as sterilisation or disinfection for the treatment of HCRW.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Chamane for his input, and agreed that alternative technologies should be used if possible.  He suggested to the DEA that the HCRW regulations should be amended to allow the Minister to approve at her discretion different methods of treating medical waste.

Discussion
Mr G Morgan (DA) inquired about the current status of approval of new incineration facilities in KwaZulu-Natal. He said he had been aware of a moratorium on incineration, but that he had recently heard of an application for a new HCRW incinerator in Pietermaritzburg. What is the current status of this development?

Mr Chamane responded that the moratorium on incineration was still in place in KwaZulu-Natal. He said that in other provinces, certain cement plants had permission to burn tyres because they had filed applications for incineration five years ago. 

Mr Morgan asked whether Mr Chamane was aware of the incineration application in Pietermaritzburg.

Mr Chamane replied that he was aware of it.  Applications for incineration were open, but applicants had no guarantee of approval as long as the moratorium remained in effect.

The Chairperson asked whether provinces had their own waste regimes that were separate from the NWMS. If separate provincial regimes existed, should they be harmonised with the national strategy? 

Ms Nolwazi Cobbinha, Acting Deputy Director-General of Chemicals and Waste Management, DEA, said the Western Cape and Gauteng had legislation in place that required industries to report back to waste management facilities. The DEA had engaged with both provinces to ensure that their separate waste regimes were harmonised with the NWMS. The strategy thus included instruments to prevent the duplication of reporting procedures.

Ms B Ferguson (COPE) commented on the issue of the green tyre levy that was raised by Mr Chamane. She felt it was unfair that the cement industry had been benefiting from the green economy to the detriment of the environment. 

The Chairperson asked which department was responsible for the levy.

Mr Chamane said the levy formed part of the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of SA (REDISA).

The Chairperson said neither he, nor the DEA, was aware of such a levy. He asked Groundwork to forward all information about the levy to the Committee Secretary. 

The Chairperson referred to the issue of poor communities and schools that were located near hazardous cement factories. The burning of tyres could not simply be prohibited, as these industries had the correct licences and were thus entitled to practise incineration. The DEA should implement practical mechanisms that would enable community members to report cases of perceived contravention of the Waste Act. The Chairperson suggested to Ms Cobbinah that a telephone line should be created so that people could contact NGOs if they had any complaints.

Mr Chamane said it would be good if municipalities were provided with a guide on how to implement the NWMS. Guidelines were necessary to assist rural municipalities in developing Integrated Waste Management Plans (IWMPs).

The Chairperson said the DEA had a toolkit in place that was used to assist local municipalities with developing their waste management plans. The department was set to meet with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Department of Co-operative Governance (DCoG) to discuss practical ways of helping poor, incapacitated municipalities to develop IWMPs.

Mr Chamane mentioned that the DTI had called for a national meeting with all formal and informal recyclers to discuss developments in the recycling sector. He said the DEA was welcome to become involved in the discussion.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Chamane for the suggestion, though he said that the DEA’s first priority was to assist municipalities in drafting waste management plans.

Ms Cobbinah thanked the Chairperson and his committee for facilitating the public hearings on the NWMS. The implementation of the strategy would be enriched as a result of the inputs that had been submitted by all the stakeholders.

The Chairperson congratulated the DEA on heading the NWMS, despite various legal obstacles. The criticisms levelled against the strategy were taken as constructive feedback. He also thanked the stakeholders for delivering quality inputs that were crisp and to the point. The DEA should try to be organised and coherent when they presented the NWMS to Treasury. As long as the Department was well-prepared, Treasury would be forthcoming. The challenge of the NWMS was to regulate the management of harmful waste, while not being guilty of stifling entrepreneurship. 

Mr Morgan said that, in addition to the NWMS and the Waste Act, there were numerous waste-related plans, guidelines and strategies.  He urged the DEA to forward all relevant documentation to the committee, so that no stakeholders would be allowed to bypass the system.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Morgan, and stressed the importance of developing a partnership between Parliament, and all the departments and stakeholders. He reminded Committee Members of the programme for next week, which included a review of the White Paper on Climate Change. There was also mention of the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs participating in the Rio +20 Conference.

Mr Morgan was concerned with the Committee minutes that were building up.

The Chairperson said he would try to read through some of the minutes. He added that the committee’s annual report and oversight report had not yet been passed.

The meeting was adjourned.

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