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The Challenges Your Household Waste Creates: what everyone should know.

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The Challenges Your Household Waste Creates: what everyone should know.
As the waste generated per person in South Africa increases, and the movement of people into cities soars, waste is exploding. Cape Town in 2017 taught us what happens when we use water in dry areas without thinking about it. Maybe its time we paused to think about the challenges our household waste creates ...

What you need to know about your household waste

Some of our most negatively impactful, and least understood habits are masked by convenience. Waste is one of those examples. Our lifestyles are making waste management an increasing nightmare. Municipalities have entire departments dedicated to finding ways to manage the challenges our waste creates, and those challenges are staggering.

1. Your waste requires increasing space.

A large portion of your household waste, specifically packaging waste, does not break down. Once disposed of, those items pile up and require more and more space. With millions of people sending bags to the curb every week, volumes quickly become beyond comprehension. Recycling is one way of diverting high volume materials. But there are also some myths about recycling that need to be debunked. We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic problem and into preserving the environment.

2. Your kitchen scraps become toxic rot.

Without the required exposure to light, water and air, decomposing matter from your kitchen scraps does not become compost in a dump or a landfill, it rots. Rotting organic matter creates large amounts of toxic liquid and methane gas which can cause water and air pollution problems, if not managed properly.

3. Many of your waste materials are highly flammable.

When combining materials like oils, paper or cardboard, used aerosol cans, plastic, tyres and reflective glass you create a site for the perfect bonfire.

4. Your waste is expensive to collect and transport.

The most expensive cost in ongoing waste management is the cost of collection and transport. To manage this cost, waste sites need to be as close to the center of the city as possible.

5. High volumes of waste can contaminate groundwater and the environment.

Toxic juice created from decomposing matter can poison groundwater and the surrounding environment. Sites have to be carefully chosen and built to minimise this risk.

6. Household waste creates health and safety risks for generations.

The combination of toxic liquid, gases and shifting material from decomposing matter creates major health and safety risks that need to be managed for generations. This comes mainly from organic matter like food scraps.

7. Managing and storing waste requires A LOT of land

Because of the pollution and ground stability risks, buffer areas up to 8 times bigger than the actual waste holding area, need to be included as part of the waste site.

8. Costs of managing your waste are difficult to recover

The cost of managing illegal dumping is many times higher than the cost associated with managing formal waste disposal. To discourage illegal dumping, waste disposal fees have to be kept well below the actual cost of managing that waste. The cost of waste management has to be heavily subsidised, reducing funds available for other priorities. So what do our municipalities do to manage all these challenges?

South Africa has some of the best landfills in the world

Metro municipalities no longer run dumps, they use landfill practices, where ever possible, to manage your waste. What is the difference between a dump and a landfill? A dump is essentially just a giant hole in the ground or allocated area where your waste is stored. It has minimal infrastructure and active planning. A landfill takes into account all the challenges of managing your waste. Landfills include technology and modern practices to minimise the impact to the environment and surrounding communities. Municipalities in South Africa operate individually. Some of our municipalities still carry dumps that were created years ago, whereas other municipalities run world class landfills, using modern technology to combine waste management with conservation.

What is a 'world class' landfill?

In world class landfills, a combination of modern technology and natural ecosystems are used to better manage waste. They include things like liquid and water treatment facilities, waste-to-energy factories, recycling areas, man-made wetlands to filter water, indigenous nurseries of plants that improve ground stability and land rehabilitation, together with many layers of materials lining specially design and excavated material storage holes, also known as cells. These world class landfills are the first of their kind in Africa. Marianhill Landfill Conservancy in Durban is one such example. Surprised and impressed? Us too! As our waste becomes more challenging to manage, the technology of our landfills and waste management has to get more advanced and generally more expensive. Our landfills are requiring large plots of urban land, costing 100's of millions of rands and nearly a decade to set up. Even the most sophisticated waste management operations are far from eco-friendly.

How much of an impact does our household waste have?

65% of urban landfills consist of just household waste. Approximately 60% of household waste can be recyclable and 15% composted. New landfills are created continuously as current ones fill up. The impact of our waste is about more the protecting the environment. With such huge resources going into managing our household waste maybe it's time we relook how much waste we generate and where we send it? Find this post interesting. Leave us a comment with your thoughts and feedback. Check out our other posts on waste: What Really Happens to Your Household Waste? Your Waste Impact: What Every South African Should Know