Those responsible for contaminating South African land will pay, Environment Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said.
"We have taken the view that the cost of reducing pollution must be shared between people who are responsible for waste: the polluters," she said.
"We are now saying that the policy of 'the polluter pays' will be strictly pursued without any fear."
Sonjica expressed concern about the country's contaminated land, saying historically it was "relatively easy" for entities to contaminate land "without any serious consequences".
Remediation of the land
The department had now finished a framework for the "remediation" of contaminated land. Sonjica said appropriate legislation would be promulgated soon.
A database of contaminated land would be linked to the deeds register for buyers and sellers of land.
Medical waste was an area of concern for the minister, and her department was working with the health sector to tackle the situation.
"We cannot stand by and watch as our people's right to a clean and safe environment is being violated and their health placed at risk," Sonjica said.
300 tons of medical waste at a brick factory
Last year, the Green Scorpions discovered 300 tons of used bandages and needles, vials and other medical waste at a brick factory in the Free State.
The health and environment departments were looking into a public-private partnership to possibly set up a regional treatment facility for medical waste.
Sonjica said a "change of mindset" was needed in society to improve waste management in the country.
Aiming at recycling
This year, Sonjica added, the department would set recycling targets aimed especially at diverting waste away from landfills. Urban households generated about 15 million tons of waste a year, while industry accounted for 25 million tons.
"I'm very worried about the state of cleanliness of South Africa. I'm very, very worried. Wherever I drive around, the sights that one comes across [are] not good.
"We cannot continue on the trajectory as a throwaway society. We need a paradigm shift that upholds and cherishes the age-old values that cleanliness is next to godliness," she said.
No waste collection services
Sonjica said it was offensive that "in this day and age" about 45% of South Africans, mainly from townships and rural areas, could not access domestic waste collection services.
“It is a major indictment to our people that we are not as yet able to offer all of them this basic service.”
She would soon present a policy on providing basic refuse removal services to the poor to Cabinet.
National waste management officer Nolwazi Cobbinah said domestic or urban waste was not the only problem facing the country. Waste from mines, construction and demolition waste, obsolete pesticides, tyres and e-waste were also problematic.
South Africa's waste generation had tripled in the last three years. (Sapa, September 2010)