Grand plan for the city’s waste

2018-11-12 15:30
A waste picker at work at the City New England Road landfill site. A proposal to extend the life of the dump would formalise the separation of recyclables.

A waste picker at work at the City New England Road landfill site. A proposal to extend the life of the dump would formalise the separation of recyclables. (Ian Carbutt)

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The New England Road landfill site could exhaust its capacity within the next two years, unless Msunduzi Municipality urgently implements an integrated waste plant to relieve some of the load on it.

This was a veiled warning from general manager for community services Boniwe Zulu, who recently briefed the City’s executive committee on the studies that have been done on the feasibility of a waste-to-energy plant.

In 2014, the Department of Environmental Affairs approached Msunduzi with a proposal to implement a national pilot project of an integrated waste plant and the previous council gave its blessing for the studies to be conducted.

Zulu said they had researched the feasibility of the plant and how much energy would be generated from the waste. This energy would be fed into the City’s power grid. She said they had also looked at how much waste would be needed to run the plant successfully.

She said when the waste gets to the site it would be sorted into recyclables, building rubble and garden refuse, and the remainder would be converted into energy.

The recyclables would be sold to those who specialised in recycling, the building rubble would be processed separately to be used in road construction, while the garden refuse would be turned into compost to be used by the City’s parks department.

According to her report, there would be less than 10% of residue for disposal at the landfill — less than 12 000 tons per annum — which would increase the lifespan of the dump to about 15 years.

“It solves — urgently and at no or low risk to the city — a very serious landfill problem … The [dump] is nearing the end of its lifespan and a new landfill site will take in excess of 10 years to establish and cost in the region of R150 million.”

The landfill is also being used by neighbouring municipalities, including uMshwati and Mooi-Mpofana, as they do not have their own sites.

According to the Municipal Systems Act, it is the function of district municipalities — in this case uMgungundlovu — to facilitate a new landfill site and to date there had been no progress in finding an alternative site.

Zulu said Msunduzi was also investigating the possibility of mining the old waste that had already been disposed at the dump to further extend its lifespan.

“There is also negotiation with Umgeni Water to find out if we can’t get sludge from them. The reason we are looking into all of this is because once you start with the waste-to-energy plant, you will get to a level where you no longer have waste to burn in the landfill site and you need to look at other alternatives.”

The plant is anticipated to employ between 250 to 300 people once it is operational.

SDB Holdings will keep the proceeds from the sale of recyclables and the City will be required to pay R500 per ton of waste treated by them, minus the revenue earned from recyclables.

“The less than R500 per ton is very reasonable as the cost of transporting waste is around R700 per ton, which is the minimum the City will have to pay to transport its refuse to Durban, where the nearest landfill site is,” read the report.

Msunduzi will pay SDB the same rate as Eskom for the electricity generated at the plant.

The construction of the plant is anticipated to cost roughly R290,5 million and the expense will be borne by the implementing agent, SDB Holdings.

If council gives the project its blessing, the plant would be built at the entrance of the site.

Zulu’s report indicated that the development would have no adverse effects on the environment in terms of dust, odours, emissions and water contamination.

“Potential pollutants are treated and neutralised before release into the environment,” read the document.

Msunduzi has repeatedly failed to implement a sustainable waste management programme as initiatives such as the kerbside recycling project collapsed due to lack of institutional support.

There is no control of informal sector activities on the landfill, with risk of injury, and The Witness previously reported on incidents where waste-pickers were injured and others died after being run over by the machinery.

'An environmental health threat' 

Umgngundlovu District says the New England Road landfill site should be completely shut down as it poses an environmental health threat which could see government being sued by ratepayers.

District manager Dr Ray Ngcobo said they supported the proposal of an integrated waste plant but “we cannot continue disposing waste at such close proximity to the city centre and residential areas”.

“If you go anywhere in the world — except Pietermaritzburg — the landfill sites are at the periphery, so if there is going to be such an investment, we need to do things right because that site can no longer take new waste and it’s an environmental health hazard.”

The district has a constitutional mandate to provide environmental health services across its seven local municipalities and that includes identifying an appropriate location for a landfill as the dump is nearing its capacity.

Ngcobo said plans were under way to find a regional dumping site that would be away from the CBD but still accessible to all the municipalities that would be using it.

“We need to start shifting to a regional site for all the municipalities because this is not a function of a local municipality. They can have sites for refuse but the dumping site is a district function.” He said for years there had been talks of a site rehabilitation strategy for dump but it never took off.

“I’m aware that, as a result of that site, there’s a number of developments around that cannot take place because of environmental issues [emanating from the landfill],” said Ngcobo.

He said one of the projects was 2 000 houses that were to be built but the environmental studies indicated the area was not suitable for a residential developments. He said an integrated waste plant would assist with the minimisation of waste, but said such should not be at such close proximity to the CBD.

“We can no longer use that area for disposing of waste. In the recent past we’ve seen the entire city being covered in smoke from the fires that erupt from there because you cannot control the scavengers going there and starting fires.”

He said schools and hospitals had to be closed down when there were big fires at the dump. “Msunduzi or government as whole is facing danger of a class action suit by residents who are being forced to smell the chemical smoke whenever there’s a fire at that site,” said Ngcobo.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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