For a country that relies heavily on its natural ecosystems and landscapes for its tourism sector, it is incredibly important that the South African waste management sector adopts the best and latest technology to avoid irreversible ecosystem damage resulting from waste.

World Environment Day is on Saturday, 5 June and has the purpose of engaging governments, businesses and citizens in an effort to address pressing environmental issues. A pressing environmental issue that South Africa has been dealing with is inadequate waste management and pollution.

According to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, South Africa sends approximately 98 million tonnes of waste to 826 landfills across the country every year.

It is no secret that we are still very reliant on landfill, and while this remains the case, we should be focusing on enhancing the engineering, technology and environmental management at landfill sites.

While we look at improving these landfill operations, we should also be looking at Alternative Waste Treatment (AWT) technologies to divert waste streams from landfill.

Landfill operators have been under pressure with issues such as the availability of remaining airspace, compliance with recently introduced regulations and licenses to extend landfill sites. Adopting AWT technology will take the pressure off landfill operators and will, ultimately, be better for the environment. 

What is AWT?

AWT refers to the adoption of different technologies that divert waste material from the older conventional linear model of straightforward disposal to landfill.

The ultimate goal is to significantly reduce the volumes of waste going to landfill and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with disposal, mainly landfill emissions. AWT solutions and technology must also be environmentally acceptable in their own right.

Current examples of AWT technologies in South Africa include mechanical biological treatment for the production of refuse-derived fuel, composting and anaerobic digestion for the generation of electricity (also known as waste-to-energy plants).

South Africas adoption of AWT

While there is a significant interest in the future development of AWT in South Africa, about 80-90% of our waste still goes to landfill. Generally, it can be said that South Africa is about 20 to 30 years behind most developed countries when it comes to AWT and the management of waste compared to most first world countries.

One of the problems with transitioning to AWT is the fact that the disposal of waste to landfill is generally still the most cost-effective option for waste generators.

The challenge that the waste sector is currently facing, is getting these projects off the ground with confidence in their economic feasibility over a sustained period of time.

At this stage, we need to explore better collaborative opportunities across organisations and with the government to jointly support AWT projects across South Africa.

From Wednesday, 3 November to Friday, 5 November the IWMSA will be hosting its Landfill and Waste Treatment Exhibition and Seminar, which will bring the landfill and AWT industries together to learn about the latest technologies and developments within the waste management sector.

The ultimate goal of AWT is to prevent and mitigate the environmental impacts that we have experienced from conventional waste management, specifically with landfill. When we talk about mitigating environmental impacts, we need to include AWT in the conversation.

Registration for the IWMSA's Landfill and Waste Treatment Exhibition and Seminar is available here.  

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