Industry Waste Plans: Department on rationale for granting extension and implications

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

15 September 2016
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson told Members that there seemed to have been a misunderstanding on the presentations to be given today but that the originally-planned briefing on the rationale behind the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) granting extensions for the submission of industry waste plans by waste generating companies would be held instead later in October, when the Minister would be present.

The Department then briefed the Committee on the status of landfill sites in South Africa, and licensing of waste disposal facilities. The roles and responsibilities of the three spheres of government were explained and it was emphasised that there was cooperation and coordination, with the DEA assisting both municipalities and provinces where necessary. In South Africa there are 826 sites, of which 667 are licensed and operated legally, whilst 69 were not licensed and were thus operating illegally. There were another 90 privately owned landfill sites that were decommissioned. 55 out of the 69 unlicensed sites were currently being licensed under the DEA’s licensing project for 2014/15 that was continuing into 2016. Members were given insight into the licensing process for landfill sites, stressing that all licenses followed an Environmental Impact Assessment process, which included public participation. Historical context was provided, explaining that municipalities bore responsibility but had been struggling with management of landfill sites, with funding being a particular constraint that hampered the municipalities. The DEA came on board to assist municipalities with better management, and it also assisted provinces with funding. About R32 million had been spent between 2013 and 2016 on the licensing project, after a study in 2007 had identified and determined 341 unlicensed facilities, although 83 facilities could be removed from the list as having been licensed elsewhere, privately owned, cleaned up or listed in error. Beyond the backlog study sites identified, 58 other sites were identified, 3 being licensed elsewhere, and of those 55 remaining, six had been licensed now already and 18 had completed their applications. Provincial breakdowns were provided. Challenges in licensing included delays  in obtaining Department of Water and Sanitation Records of Decisions, replacement of sites by municipalities during implementation of the project, land ownership issues in traditional areas, appointment of Environmental Assessment Practitioners for similar sites by municipalities, and funding needed for sites where specialist studies such as geotechnical or wetland surveys were required. DEA highlighted that important issues to deal with in future included  institutional governance, integrated planning and development at municipalities, funding models, management of operations at landfill sites, capacity building and awareness around illegal dumping and compliance and enforcement coordination with the provinces as well as strengthening of regulations, by laws and legislation.

Members asked what he Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of SA (REDISA) was doing on its waste tyre management programme, and all agreed that a briefing was still needed and explanation on why tyres were still being dumped and burnt at some landfill sites. Members asked how privately owned landfill sites originated, whose needs they served and under what circumstances they would be decommissioned, and also enquired how DEA would rehabilitate closed sites, and who was responsible, as well as the timeframes, as well as whether re-engineering was done.  DEA was also asked what plans it had for e-waste and why South Africa was not focusing more on recycling, whether further incentives or disincentives were needed, and highlighted the potential for job creation. DEA explained that again funding was a constraint and that the right infrastructure was needed before creating legislation. They also enquired whether it would be feasible to ban plastic bags as other countries had, whether Sweden's example of burning waste to generate electricity could be used, and what had happened to the plans for Durban to import waste from Lebanon. Members also wanted to know if all municipalities were in compliance on waste management strategies, why transformation in the waste management sector was so slow, when the projection would be for proper management and if rural and urban areas were being given the same attention. Further questions were asked about dumping and spillage in certain areas.

Meeting report

Status of landfills in South Africa and licensing of waste disposal facilities: Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) briefing
The Chairperson noted at the outset that there seemed to have been a misunderstanding between the Committee and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA or the Department) as the Committee had requested a briefing on the rationale behind the DEA granting extensions for the submission of industry waste plans by waste generating companies. The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa had wished to be present at such briefing. However, the current papers before the Committee concerned the status of landfill sites in South Africa. She said that the briefing on the extension given by the DEA for industry waste plans would now take place in the third of fourth week of October 2016.

Mr Mark Gordan, Deputy Director General: Chemical and Waste Management, Department of Environmental Affairs introduced the briefing and started by outlining the roles and responsibilities, which were set by the mandates, of the various spheres of government  in relation to waste management, and said that there was cooperation and coordination amongst the spheres of government. He noted that in South Africa there were  826 landfill sites. 667 of the 826 landfill sites were licensed and operated legally. 69 were not licensed and were operating illegally. There were also 90 privately-owned landfill sites that were decommissioned. He added that 55 out of the 69 unlicensed sites were being licensed under the DEA’s licensing project for 2014/15 that had continued into 2016.

Members were given insight into the licensing process for landfill sites. All licensees were required to follow an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process in line with the the EIA regulations of 2014. Public participation was compulsory and was thus an intrinsic part of the EIA process.

Mr Gordon provided some historical context. Municipalities had been struggling with the management of landfill sites, and funding was a huge constraint that hampered municipalities from bringing their sites into compliance with relevant legislation. The DEA had therefore come on board to assist municipalities for the better management of their landfill sites. The actual licensing of landfill sites was a provincial competence but the DEA had assisted with funding to do so. DEA had spent approximately R32m from 2013 to 2016 on its licensing project.

He explained that in 2007 the DEA had commissioned a study aimed at identifying and determining the number of waste disposal facilities that were not licensed throughout SA. This study identified 341 sites and an action plan was developed and presented to the DEA. He set out a list of the figures showing the progress in licensing from then to date (see attached presentation for full details). 83 facilities were removed from the list of “unlicensed facilities” for various reasons  - such as that municipalities had licensed them, some were privately owned, others were dumping sites that had been cleaned up and some sites previously identified simply did not exist. This brought the total down to 258, and these were then to be licensed by the DEA. Beyond the backlog study sites identified, there were 58 other sites identified, three of which were removed from the list as they were licensed or being dealt with by provincial authorities. Of the 55 sites currently going through the licensing processes, six were now  licensed and 18 of them had completed applications that were being considered by provincial authorities. A breakdown of the 55 sites per province was provided (see attached presentation).

Challenges relating to the 55 sites included the following:
- delays in obtaining Department of Water and Sanitation Record of Decisions (RODs) - replacement of sites by municipalities during the project’s implementation - issues around land ownership in traditional areas -  appointment of Environmental Assessment Practitioners for similar sites by municipalities
- in some cases, funding was required where sites had been determined as requiring specialist studies during the project’s implementation – for instance, geotechnical and wetland studies.

Mr Gordon then described the way forward for the DEA. It was important to pay close attention to institutional governance, integrated planning and development, but this was a challenge since  municipalities needed to have Integrated Development Plans (IDPs). Appropriate funding models were needed as there were budgetary constraints. Management and operations at landfill sites was necessary. The DEA would also have to deal with capacity building and awareness on illegal dumping, ensure compliance and enforcement coordination with provinces, and would also need to strengthen regulations, by laws and legislation. 


Ms J Edwards (DA) asked why the DEA had decommissioned 90 privately owned landfill sites. If this was  because the DEA could not regulate them, she wondered if it would not have been preferable to enter into partnerships with the private sector. She asked how the DEA would rehabilitate a landfill site when it had been closed down, and whose responsibility it actually was to rehabilitate that site, and within what timeframes. She noted that even though the burning of waste and tyres was illegal, it was still being done in a town in Mpumalanga, giving rise to health as well as safety hazards.

Ms Edwards asked if the DEA had a specific plan on e-waste. A problem had occurred in KwaZulu-Natal and she asked what effect it had on the environment in that area. She also asked why South Africa (SA) was not focussing more aggressively on recycling. She wondered how feasible was it for SA to ban plastic bags, pointing out that smaller African countries had banned plastic bags. She made the point that there was an ideal opportunity for recycling to be a job creator in SA, and so she wanted to know if the DEA had a plan of action for that, whether it would be likely to be putting any incentives in place. She also noted that in respect of chemical waste, a target was set to create 500 jobs, but the actual figure was only 95, and she wondered the reason behind having only 20% of the target being met.  

Ms Michele Govender, Chief Director: Hazardous Waste Management, DEA, spoke firstly to the 90 privately owned landfill sites and said that the decision here was based on several factors. The sites had been closed because there were holes in the ground. There were still around 70 well managed, privately owned landfill sites which were licensed. DEA was assisted by municipalities to identify illegal sites so that they could be closed down. The DEA would make a decision on how the rehabilitation would be done. Where there were no holes in the ground and waste had not yet rotted the site was merely cleaned up. In relation to decommissioning she noted that there were bigger landfill sites that would be expensive to re-engineer, running into costs of millions of rand. Measures were put in place by municipalities to monitor matters. She said that she would look into the problem in the KwaZulu-Natal. She said that the DEA was trying to encourage and push for recycling, but the reality was that  infrastructure and other matters had to be in place for proper recycling sites before this could really be taken further. 

Mr Gordan explained that in 2002 the then-Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Mr Valli Moosa had introduced regulations for plastic bags, requiring them to be made in such a way that they could be recycled. DEA had done surveys and a full value chain analysis and had realised that if plastic bags were banned, there would need to be thought given to what else people might use. DEA could look at ways of preventing plastic bags from ending up at landfills. If a price was put on something, then people would think twice about disposing of it, and currently the price of a plastic bag was 45 cents. DEA felt that these moves had in fact reduced the disposal of bags because they were not currently as visible as waste lying around as they used to be. He commented that perhaps the DEA should come up with more disincentives, such as the current price of 45 cents being increased. The DEA was working with the big brands and the retail sector in considering alternatives. For example, fast food giants KFC and McDonalds now used paper bags. The point made by Members was well made, and the DEA would look further into the issue.

Mr Gordon explained that only 90 jobs were created out of the target of 500 in relation to the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of SA (REDISA), but an audit was under way to verify the figures. The current economic climate resulted in a decrease in the numbers of tyres manufactured, which affected the numbers of jobs created by REDISA.

Mr Gordon said that the rehabilitation of landfill site could take from 3 months to a year to complete. The DEA had rehabilitated a large number of sites across SA.

Ms H Nyambi (ANC) asked how the 90 privately owned landfill sites had even originated in the first place and whose needs they served. She also asked what significant changes were made to a site from being an illegal to a legal one, and if re-engineering took place in the process.

Ms Govender said that private landfill sites had come about because of a need. There were industries who produced hazardous waste and the private sector saw an opportunity to deal with it. It was a niche market worth hundreds of millions of rands.  These privately owned landfill sites were rigorously monitored by the DEA. They had to adhere to much more stringent conditions, because they were dealing with hazardous waste. She confirmed that when a site was changed from an illegal to a legal one, re-engineering did take place. The DEA worked with the Department of Water Affairs and municipalities. 

Mr T Hadebe (DA) repeated that tyres were often dumped and burnt at landfill sites. He pointed out that a contractor had been appointed to collect tyres in KwaZulu-Natal but he had not seen it being done, and there were still tyres at landfill sites. He asked what REDISA was actually doing ? He referred to the DEA commissioned study done by consultants Jeffares and Green, and asked how it could happen that some landfill sites were identified when they did not in reality exist.

Mr Gordan spoke firstly to the collection of tyres and said that REDISA had been operating at only 60% capacity since it had started in 2013. He pointed out that the DEA had done an audit of many landfill sites. The DEA had the Green Scorpions to monitor the position and there had been a massive improvement in the collection of tyres and in numbers of jobs created. Even REDISA had been audited by the DEA. He assured members that at the larger landfill sites there were no tyres lying around. It was indeed illegal for tyres to end up in landfill sites.

Ms Govender said that there was an impression given of ghost sites but in fact the DEA had worked with municipalities to identify sites and it had been the municipalities who led the process.  A rationalisation process had been followed by the DEA and municipalities. For the smaller landfill sites, it was easier to remove waste.

Mr P Mabilo (ANC) pointed out that Sweden imported waste, which it then used to generate electricity. He said that the City of Durban had signed an agreement with a European country to import waste from Lebanon and wanted to know if this deal had materialised? He further asked whether all municipalities operated in terms of a waste management strategy, and if there were municipalities who were not complying, whether they were given deadlines by which they had to comply. He asked what the progress  of the value chain was on waste regulating enterprise development and support. In his own province he did not see any skills development taking place in this sector, and there was very slow transformation also in the sector.

Mr Gordan responded that Sweden had severe weather, and it did import waste in order to burn it to generate electricity for the heating that was needed. The question had been raised whether South Africa wanted to go the same route of burning waste and whether this was the best method for it to generate electricity. NGOs were opposed to the idea and believed that in South Africa it would be better to try to recycle rather than burn, so it was a different approach in principle. He agreed that a decision had been taken to import waste from Lebanon  by the Executive Committee of the Durban Municipality, but the DEA  had put a stop to the idea and no contract had been signed. Strict controls were in place, via a permitting system, if there were any proposals to import waste and all municipalities were required to come up with plans and strategies for waste management. The metros were doing well on this, and the DEA was assisting other municipalities. There were now only a few sites where illegal drops were made. He explained that the DEA had called for proposals on the Recycling Enterprise Development Programme, and over 200 were received, so that funding was now being sourced for the proposed projects, although there were budgetary constraints.  One source of funds was the levy charged on plastic bags. He said that the sector was transforming and work was being done in this regard.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) appreciated the clarity given on how landfill sites should be managed, but he asked if the DEA could give any projections as to when landfill sites all over SA would be properly managed; perhaps by 2030? He asked what the attitudes of municipalities were towards budgeting for landfill sites and said they should take the issue of landfill sites more seriously. He felt that a programme of awareness on dumping and burning of waste should be ongoing as the reality was that South Africa had not reached the right levels of understanding. He noted that the DEA had listed some issues that needed further focus and he suggested that specific strategies needed to be put in place to deal with the issues highlighted. He then asked if plans were put in place and timeframes were set? He asked if the DEA felt that there was effective coordination in the three spheres of government on implementing legislation and strategies. He also suggested that REDISA should be asked to brief the Committee fully on its operations. 

Mr Gordan noted that waste was a major issue and affected everyone. The National Waste Management Strategy had called for a 20% waste diversion from landfill sites. He said that 90% of municipal waste ended up at landfill sites. The DEA had a waste-pricing strategy in place, and he asserted that “waste was wealth”. It could be regulated. Ideally the plan was that waste should not go to landfills. SA was a developing country which had mining and manufacturing sectors, and it would thus always have residual waste, even if recycling was done fully. However, a full value chain would have to be in place before SA could put legislation in place – for instance,  there had to be persons who bought the recycled goods. The DEA had a Waste Management Bureau. Having plans in place for the issues identified was a continuously moving target. Progress had been made on awareness, regulations and on licensing and a licensing permit did come with conditions. He confirmed that there was good coordination and support between the DEA, provinces and municipalities. There were certain waste quorums for key issues, but the main issue related to funding. In the past, waste management had always been an afterthought. This was changing now, as it was being prioritised. He suggested that a proper Infrastructure Waste Grant was needed to stop the current idea of putting waste in landfills. The DEA had plans for different types of waste. In relation to raising awareness, the DEA had come up with a waste pickers' strategy that looked specifically into issues around the livelihood, safety and dignity of waste pickers. The DEA had tools of trade programmes to assist waste pickers.

Ms Govender also confirmed that there was coordination between the three spheres of government. She added that intervention by the Committee would be welcomed. 

Mr Z Xalisa (EFF) pointed out that the DEA had spent R32m from 2013 to 2016 on the landfill project. He asked for a breakdown of the figure.

Ms Govender said that the Committee could be provided with a proper breakdown on how the R32m was spent. She did venture to say that there were 55 landfill sites that were being licensed and that there were huge costs involved which included geotechnical and wetland studies. Roughly R11m was spent on the 55 sites, R18.4m on 202 sites and R2m was spent in 2012/13. The majority of the funds were spent on consultants who had to come up with reports.

The Chairperson referred to the 69 landfill sites that were not licensed and asked how then they operated, and where they were located.

Ms Govender explained that out of the 69 landfill sites that were not licensed, the DEA was presently licensing 55. She referred Members to the briefing document slide for a breakdown.

Mr Hadebe urged that the Committee should engage more on the REDISA issue. More detail was also needed on litter-pickers.

Mr Makhubele asked whether urban and rural areas were given the same attention. He referred to page 10 which spoke to progress made in the licensing of landfill sites as per province. He referred to the figures on the Northern Cape Province and asked whether the Province had been neglected.

Ms Govender explained that the process was a lengthy one. Some provinces were able to come up with statistics quickly, while others did not. It was only in the last two rounds that the Northern Cape Province had come up with statistics, and it had come up with many sites. The DEA tried its best to give attention to both urban and rural areas. In the current round the Northern Cape Province had featured prominently although for the reasons stated it had not featured much in the previous rounds.

The Chairperson noted that Members wished to be briefed by REDISA on its waste tyre management programme. He thought that National Treasury and the DEA wished to move away from a levy in favour of a tyre tax, and suggested that because of this, Members needed to have a briefing, and this should happen as a matter of urgency. The entire management of waste had to be looked at in the broader sense. He was aware that National Treasury collected a levy on the sale of plastic bags but said that for every 45 cents charged the retailer apparently received 39 cents and he wanted to know how much was actually going back to assist in recycling efforts.

Mr Hadebe asked what was being done about toxic waste being dumped at Shongweni in KwaZulu-Natal, and what was being done at Tsitsikamma. 

Mr Gordan said that the KwaZulu-Natal issue had been publicised in the media. There had been enforcement action on the company involved. Investigations were ongoing and the matter was being addressed.

The Chairperson asked whether the DEA also dealt with spillage issues, as there had been spillage of oil from the Menlyn Mall into a river in Tshwane.

Mr Ishaam Abader, Deputy Director General: Authorisations, Compliance and Enforcement, DEA, said that this matter would be dealt with as compliance officials from the DEA would look into it.


Ms Govender explained that the oil was from a generator at the Menlyn Mall. It had flowed into the river. The situation had been dealt with but further reports were still forthcoming.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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