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South African Industry Forced to Adapt as Waste Streams are Prohibited from Landfill Disposal

Posted by Kate Stubbs on 17/01/19 20:04
Kate Stubbs
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In line with increasingly stringent global standards, South African industry is faced with a challenge of improving upon and changing its waste disposal practices. Arguably, one of the greatest obstacles within the waste economy is the current dependence on landfills. According to the 2018 Africa Waste Management Outlook Report (authored by the UN Environment and CSIR), more than 90% of waste generated in Africa is disposed of at uncontrolled dumpsites and landfills, often with associated open burning. Moreover, 19 of the world’s 50 biggest dumpsites are located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the past several years, new legislation has been developed to improve the disposal of waste to landfill, and more importantly, to encourage industry to seek alternative solutions. One of the most significant developments has been the prohibition of certain waste streams from landfill disposal as from 2013 – with additional waste streams falling into this prohibition on an annual basis. It is imperative that local industry stakeholders are aware of this legislation and take the necessary steps to comply. Critically, these prohibitions represent an opportunity to seek alternative and more sustainable waste management solutions, and create a more efficient waste economy in South Africa.

Legislation Introduced

In August 2013, the promulgation of the National Norms and Standards for the Disposal of Waste to Landfill (GN R 636 of 23 August 2013), together with the Waste Classification and Management Regulations (GN R 634 of 23 August 2013)(‘WCMR’), inter alia, formalised a comprehensive new legal framework. The Standards for Disposal of Waste to Landfill included a list of wastes restricted or prohibited from disposal to landfill, which has been coming into effect systematically since 2013 as per prescribed time frames. These wastes include reactive wastes, recyclable waste oils, whole waste tyres, lamps, lead acid batteries, and waste with a certain calorific value, amongst others.

The prohibitions reflect the need to ensure the safety of those involved in the physical disposal of waste to landfill, as well as the long-term protection of the environment. Importantly, the prohibitions are indicative of the Regulator’s intention to drive the sustainable diversion of waste from landfill in accordance with the guiding principles of the Waste Management Hierarchy and the Waste Management Act.

Phased Implementation

The phased implementation of certain landfill prohibitions post August 2013 is intended to allow ‘industry’ and the waste sector sufficient time to prepare and to explore alternative waste management solutions for the subject waste(s). Overall, the local waste sector has been responsive to this call by the Regulator so far, evidenced by many of the subsequent investments made in respect of the management of wastes already or imminently prohibited for landfill disposal.

Examples of such initiatives already implemented include lamp/lighting recycling facilities; other WEEE waste recycling facilities; waste derived fuel (WDF) preparation facilities; development of co-processing capacity within the South African cement industry; refuse derived fuel (RDF) production facilities; used/spent solvent recovery facilities; as well as many other innovative waste recycling, recovery, treatment and composting facilities.

Latest Prohibitions to Landfill

On the 23rd of August 2018, the following, additional, waste streams were prohibited from landfill disposal under the new legal regime:

  • Re-usable, recoverable or recyclable used or spent solvents;

  • PCB containing waste (>50mg/kg or 50ppm); and

  • 25% diversion from the baseline at a particular landfill of separated garden waste.

Arguably though, it is those prohibitions that are yet to come into effect that will require the most management and technology interventions. That said, it could also create opportunities for the sector as a whole. From a financial viewpoint, these recent prohibitions should not have a dramatic effect on industry. PCB containing waste, as well as solvent wastes are already largely managed through alternatives to landfill disposal (e.g. recovery/rejuvenation, recycling or thermal destruction).

The prohibition of quartered tyres are already ostensibly prohibited (as is any tyre; whether whole, quartered or shredded) in terms of the Waste Tyre Regulations (GN R 1064 of 29 September 2017) under the Waste Act.

Importantly, 23 August 2018 also introduced prohibitions on the concurrent disposal of certain waste types to the same working cells of any operational landfill facility, as specified in Section 5(2)(a) of the Norms and Standards for the Disposal of Waste to Landfill, as follows:

Section 5 (2): “The following prohibitions and restrictions on activities related to the disposal of waste to landfill come into effect after the time-frames indicated for each activity from the date of the Regulations taking effect

Prohibited or Restricted Waste Disposal Activities:


(a) Disposal of - 

  • Type 1 waste that has been treated, with pre-classified general waste under Annexure 1 to the Regulations (paraphrased)

Five (5) years: 23 August 2018

  • Any hazardous waste, with pre-classified general waste under Annexure 1 to the Regulations (paraphrased)

Five (5) years: 23 August 2018

  • Type 4 waste with any waste other than Type 4, unless part of treatment

Five (5) years: 23 August 2018


Waste(s) ‘pre-classified’ in terms of Annexure 1 to the Waste Classification & Management Regulations (‘WCMR’)

General Waste:

Hazardous Waste:

  • Domestic waste

  • Business waste without hazardous waste/chemicals

  • Non-infectious animal carcasses

  • Garden waste

  • Waste packaging

  • Waste tyres

  • Building & demolition waste not containing hazardous waste or hazardous chemicals

  • Excavated earth material not containing hazardous waste or hazardous chemicals

  • Asbestos Waste

  • PCB waste (i.e. containing >50 ppm PCB)

  • Expired, spoilt or unusable hazardous products

  • General waste (excl. domestic waste), which contains hazardous waste or hazardous chemicals

  • Mixed, hazardous chemical wastes from analytical laboratories, and laboratories from academic institutions in containers <100l.

  • Health Care Risk Waste (HCRW)

Notwithstanding the WCMR having divorced a waste’s classification (i.e. general vs. hazardous) from its landfill disposal requirements the above listed ‘disposal activities’ prohibitions move the sector, at least partially, back to the regulatory realm of having distinctly operated general (pre-classified general waste) and hazardous waste landfills, or more correctly, disposal cells.

Key Transformation Required

Given the above, landfills intending or required to manage both pre-classified general waste, as well as Type 1 Waste that has been treated and /or hazardous wastes, will need to essentially operate two distinct cells at any such landfill site, i.e. a a cell/s for disposal of pre-classified general waste and other Type 2/3/4 general wastes, as well as another separate cell/s for disposal of Type 2/3/4 hazardous and pre-classified hazardous wastes. This requirement would also affect initial waste handling at generators’ sites - where such generators would now need to ensure that they appropriately segregate waste in a manner aligned, irrespective of whether or not such wastes are intended for disposal at the same landfill.

Prohibition of Liquid Waste, 2019

Looking ahead, in August 2019 the industry will see the disposal of liquid waste, as well as hazardous waste with a calorific value of  more than 20MJ/kg prohibited.

These prohibitions could have major financial impacts on such generators, given that the costs for the treatment, recycling or recovery of these wastes are typically higher than any conventional management thereof to landfill. This challenge will be amplified by a general lack of such ‘alternative capacity’ in areas outside of Gauteng, relative to the more ready access to landfill disposal elsewhere in South Africa for such wastes under the current legal regime.

Planning for Increased Costs

Critically, whilst the intention of the landfill disposal prohibitions is being understood from a purely theoretical point of view, the continued implementation of further prohibitions is likely to have an ever increasing impact on the waste management costs of generators producing these wastes in the short to medium term.

For waste generators and industry stakeholders alike, it is imperative to start planning for the 2019 prohibitions, and to seek relevant investment and technology development opportunities with regards to alternative waste disposal solutions.

Read more about the changes to waste-related legislation, which will be implemented on 23 August 2019, that could have a potential impact on how your waste is managed to ensure ongoing compliance. 

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