The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism gave an overview of its responses to submissions received from the public. The report entailed a summary of the Department’s proposed amendments and general views on the Bill. In addition, the Department briefed the Committee on incineration and co-processing. It supported both processes for the treatment of waste management in the country.
Members posed questions about the capacity of municipalities and provinces, the tax levy on plastic bags and co-generation. The Committee expressed concern about the effect of incineration on the health of communities located adjacent to incinerators. The issue of incineration and its threat to human beings was debated by the Committee.
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) response to submissions
Ms Joanne Yawitch, Deputy Director General, DEAT, reminded the Committee that there had been substantive public hearings on the Bill in November 2007. Prior to these hearings, stakeholders also participated in the Department’s extensive public consultative process. Out of these interactions, the Department had received some good input, which warranted certain amendments to the legislation.
In addition, Ms Yawitch specified DEAT’s response and underlying approach to all the comments submitted on the Bill. She indicated that the Bill was framework legislation and therefore did not deal with detail that could effectively be handled in the regulations. National and international trends in environment legislation had been embraced in the Bill. It was also noted that environment was a concurrent competence and therefore national legislation should not limit the province’s powers to pass legislation.
Ms Yawitch described the proposed amendments to certain definitions in the Bill. On the opposite spectrum, she also outlined the motivations for the retention of certain definitions in the Bill. DEAT rejected suggestions that scrap metals should be excluded from the “waste” definition because it had economic value. The issue of radioactive waste was excluded to avoid duplication. Finally, she summarised all the points that the Department supported and those that it opposed.
Ms Nolwazi Cobbinah, Chief Director: Waste Management, DEAT, discussed incineration and co-processing. The Department supported the regulated use of incineration as an option for the treatment of waste. A ban on this process would allow for the continuation of increased emissions from landfills. Equally, the Department supported the use of cement kilns for co-processing and the treatment of hazardous waste as a viable waste management option in South Africa.
Mr I Cachalia (ANC) raised two issues. Firstly, he queried whether municipalities dealt with other types of waste disposal besides household waste. Secondly, he asked why asbestos was included as inert waste.
Ms Yawitch confirmed that municipalities only dealt with general waste. In addition, she explained that the Department initially classified asbestos as inert waste. However, this designation was considered to be too wide and asbestos was eventually re-classified as hazardous and priority waste.
Mr Cachalia queried whether municipalities and provinces had sufficient financial, staff and infrastructural resources to ensure the success of the Department’s waste management plan. In addition, he wondered how the department intended to monitor their performance. Finally, he asked if the money collected from the tax on plastic bags had been utilised to refund the national recycling programme and establish recycling depots.
Ms Yawitch replied that very few municipalities were prepared to establish landfill sites because it was “simply too expensive to do so”. This resulted in more and more waste going into less space under worse conditions. While a handful of municipalities initiated various projects to encourage recycling, such projects needed to be expanded. As part of its priority, the Department continued to allocate budgets to both municipalities and provinces to develop and implement an Integrated Waste Management Plan (IWMP). Lastly, Ms Yawitch indicated that R82 million was raised under the plastic levy to establish a company called Buyisa-e-Bag. Broadly speaking, this company was designed to build the plastic recycling industry and contribute towards a long-term sustainable environment that was free of plastic bag waste. The Department was convinced that Buyisa-e-Bag had “demonstrated its ability to establish recycling sites (15 across the country) and generate employment”.
Based on the presentation, Mr G Morgan (DA) suggested that the Department intended to increase incineration and not reduce it, which he viewed as problematic. He was not convinced that incineration should be the preferred method for dealing with medical waste when there were other available alternatives such as autoclave.
Ms Yawitch commented that there were many problems in the medical waste industry. She agreed with the Member that there were a number of ways of dealing with medical waste, namely incinerate, bury, burn or even autoclave. Historically, South African hospitals had incinerators that could be described as “hot fires”. She stressed that steps had been taken to address this and that any attempts to ban incineration would create a crisis. She countered that the residue from the autoclave process would be problematic and that the volumes involved in incineration were favourable when compared to other processes.
Mr Morgan contended that incineration posed a threat to human health. He also argued that the Bill was not aspirational enough. Finally, he cautioned the Committee against “signing over a blank cheque” to the Department regarding incineration.
Mr L Greyling (ID) accused the Department of giving a positive report on incineration, when this process was responsible for producing harmful emissions. Given the country’s bad history regarding incineration, he expressed doubts that this legislation would change that reality. He sought an assurance from the Department that the emissions produced from the incineration, would not be harmful to people.
Similarly, Ms J Chalmers (ANC) voiced concern about incineration. She observed that communities were affected substantially by the level of emissions released by incinerators.
Ms Yawitch explained that human beings produced waste, which then needed to be managed. Currently, waste was dealt with in two ways, either stored in landfill sites or incinerated. The latter model was the appropriate method for particular hazardous waste streams. However, neither process was optimal because every type of waste disposal method had a set of negative consequences for the communities located adjacent to them.
Ms Yawitch denied claims that the Department was promoting incineration as “a wonderful solution to everything”. DEAT only focused on this process because it was already an existing industry in the country. DEAT had changed its approach to waste management and decided to concentrate on the regulation of standards and performance, and not the technology that achieved this. This implied that, in relation to incineration, DEAT would determine certain emission standards. There was a reluctance to ban any technology because we are living in an era of rapid technological innovation, and advancements in technology occur on a daily basis. Finally, she maintained that the Department had looked at much international legislation, which showed that the regulator looked at the output and not input.
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) asserted that DEAT was the custodian of the environment, and as such needed to compel municipalities and provinces to comply with environmental legislation. In addition, she challenged DEAT to ensure that there was a balance between development and damage to the environment
Ms Yawitch acknowledged that it was an ongoing challenge to build the capacity and competency of municipalities and provinces.
Mr D Maluleke (ANC) mentioned that the Department would not be able satisfy everybody. Nevertheless, he felt comforted that the Department “took on board” the input and concerns raised by the stakeholders.
Ms Chalmers maintained that incineration was an expensive process and asked the Department for the costing on this. In addition, she noted that in the Department’s presentation, it stated that co-processing and incineration were on the increase internationally. She asked for documentation and statistics to support this view, which was contrary to those expressed by NGOs during the public hearings.
Ms Yawitch confirmed that the Department had compiled substantial research and gathered extensive statistics on this question. She made a commitment to supply this information to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked if there were countries that had banned incineration. In addition, Mr Greyling and Mr Maluleke queried what waste disposal processes were used by those countries that had banned incineration.
Ms Cobbinah replied that there were countries that had banned incineration. Ms Yawitch added that she did not at present have the details of the alternative waste disposal processes that these countries used but promised to furnish them before the end of the day.
The Chairperson asked how the Department dealt with the issue of co-generation. Secondly, he enquired whether the Department had determined its draft minimum standards.
Ms Yawitch explained that due to the electricity shortage in the country, Eskom had appealed to certain industries to “come to the party” and release pressure on the country’s electrical grid. The industry responded positively to this request and offered to co-generate electricity. The Department had already engaged with industry and insisted that all installations (for co-generation) be subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Ms Yawitch indicated that the Department had indeed established internationally recognised standards.
Mr Morgan noted that the Bill gave the Minister several powers. He suggested that the Minister be compelled to consult with the Committee before he acted.
Ms Yawitch replied that the Bill provided for a robust consultative process on any decision taken by the Minister.
The Chairperson suggested that given the complexity and controversy around this matter, the Committee should specify that any regulations by the Department would have to come via Parliament.
Ms Chalmers believed that it would helpful for Committee to visit sites where there were cement kilns and incinerators.
Mr S Peek, Director: GroundWork, argued that the organisation stood by its submission, which was delivered during the public hearings.
The Chairperson asked the Department’s view on the disposal of agricultural waste and pesticides.
Ms Yawitch replied that the issue of pesticides was dealt through the Stockholm Convention. She stated that non-burn processes could be used to dispose of agricultural waste. Finally, she noted that other legislation dealt with the management of pesticides.
Mr Morgan asked if mining waste would be designated as priority waste stream under the legislation or whether it would be located in the Department of Minerals and Energy.
Ms Yawitch explained that mining waste in general would not be classified as a waste stream because one had different types of waste in a single mine. However, certain types of waste found within mines would be categorised in a particular waste stream.
Mr Maluleke asked what effect the legislation would have on prospective buyers of property.
Ms Yawitch replied that an onus vested in the purchaser of property to investigate and make sure that the property was not polluted.
Mr Cachalia asked whether the Department had any plans for the recovery and disposal of Compact Fluorescent Lights.
Ms Yawitch indicated that CFLs contained mercury and should be disposed of carefully.
The Chairperson concluded that this was a useful exchange and looked forward to receiving the study that the Department had promised.
The meeting was adjourned.
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