How our household waste is managed in South Africa and where it really goes is a question surprisingly few ever think about. Even less of us really know the answer. Most of us are not naive enough to think the process of waste management is eco-friendly but for the most part, we don't really think of it doing that much harm. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Why Even The Most Sophisticated Waste Management Is Far From Eco-Friendly
Waste is a complicated business with many challenges. Our household waste is particularly challenging. There are many things we can do at home to help the environment: waste is just one. Thankfully, South Africa has some of the best landfills in the world. Surprised and impressed? Us too! There are many different ways to manage waste within a city. But, no matter which method of waste management a municipality uses, it always requires LAND - flat, open land, close to the centre of the city.
The Massive SetupWe often don't realise the huge amount of resources that go into setting up our landfills so here is a sneak peak of the process:
- Once the need for a landfill is agreed a few land options are selected and impact assessments are done. Purchasing of the most suitable land can then happen.
- Engineers and architects design and approve the site layout, taking into account the infrastructure requirements.
- Infrastructure is built to accommodate the large, continuous flow of heavy duty traffic.
- Liquid and methane gas extraction facilities, as well as water treatment plants, are installed.
- To reduce the risk of leaking toxins into the surrounding area, large holes in the ground are excavated and lined with many layers of complex materials.
- Recycling stations are set up on site or nearby.
- Some municipalities will harvest and save indigenous plants to create plant nurseries and wetland ecosystems. These plants are then used to rehabilitate the land.
- Gas-to-energy plants are sometimes built on site to create energy to power the surrounding infrastructure.
- Weigh bridges are installed to keep track of how much waste comes into the landfill.
The Ongoing Daily ManagementManaging the day to day operations of the landfills that hold our waste also requires enormous cost and resources.
- Large teams of staff and fleets of fuel-guzzling trucks collect waste throughout the city on a daily basis.
- Weighbridges are maintained and staffed to keep track of how much waste comes in and how much space is left.
- Large amounts of water are sprayed onto the site throughout the day to manage the impact of dust and fire risk in the landfill.
- Bulldozers operate on site all day, shifting materials to maximise area use and ensure the waste is tightly packed.
- The correct ratios of general waste need to be combined with building rubble and garden refuse. If sufficient building rubble and garden refuse are not available they are bought and transported to the site.
- Water treatment plants, waste-to-energy plants, and plant rehabilitation nurseries are all maintained and staffed.