Recycling will help reduce landfills

PHOTO:Ian Carbutt Members of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department monitor a fire at the dump site last week.
PHOTO:Ian Carbutt Members of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department monitor a fire at the dump site last week.

WHILE residents of Pietermaritzburg watched as the New England Landfill site burned sending toxic smoke into the atmosphere, environmental organisation groundWork emphasised the importance of recycling.

“Recycling will decrease the amount of waste being buried at landfill sites, therefore, there will be less fires or flammable materials. If as a country can only produce only recyclable materials we may not need landfills,” said Musa Chamane, groundWork waste campaign manager.

While Chamane said that it is difficult to say what would have caused the fire at the landfill site, he said that poor practices generally lead to fires. “A lot of recyclable waste such as paper and plastic that should have been recycled, uncovered waste that should be landfilled at the end of each day, unlimited or unrestricted access by the public, uncontrolled salvaging of waste by waste pickers and public could have resulted in the fire.

He said that the chemicals emitted from the landfill site are among the most carcinogenic compounds known to cause cancers in humans. Any exposure to these chemicals, especially for people with respiratory problems such as asthma, is cause for concern.

“Dioxins and Furans known to cause cancer in humans, heavy metals such as nickel that causes chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and cancer of the lung and nasal sinus and styrene vapour from burning foam based products can damage the eyes and mucous membranes are just some of the gases that a fire at a landfill will produce.”

When asked how fires at dumps should be handled he said that it should be prevented in the first place. “Fires should be managed through public and staff training. A landfill is like a gas station, smoking is not allowed due to various flammable gases that are present in these places,” said Chamane.

Wastepickers were allowed to get back to work at the New England landfill site however they would have lost recycling materials that they would have collected and sold to make a daily wage.

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Response from Msunduzi Municipality

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson, Nqobile Madonda, said that the exact cause of the fire remains unknown but offered two possible reasons; “there was a neighbouring veld fire that may have resulted in airbourne flaming debris finding its way over the fire break or wastepickers may have left a fire unattended,” she said.

Madonda added that the site remained accessible for disposal and the affected area will be rehabilitated.

She added that fire-breaks are created regularly, waste must be covered daily, spot checks on waste via personnel and camera technologies are in place, annual upgrades enhance cover and general operations and three additional fire hydrants have been installed along the active work-face at the landfill site.

“Landfill fires are common however we have been able to reduce the frequency over the past five years by improved operations. It is difficult to totally avoid due to many possible factors that give rise to these fires,” said Madonda.

Response from Msunduzi Municipality­

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson, Nqobile Madonda, said that the exact cause of the fire remains unknown, but offered two possible reasons: “There was a neighbouring veld fire that may have resulted in airborne flaming debris finding its way over the fire break, or waste pickers may have left a fire unattended,” she said.

Madonda added that the site remained accessible for disposal and the affected area will be rehabilitated.

She added that fire breaks are created regularly, waste must be covered daily, spot checks on waste via personnel and camera technologies are in place, annual upgrades enhance cover and general operations and three additional fire hydrants have been installed along the active work-face at the landfill site.

“Landfill fires are common, however, we have been able to reduce the frequency over the past five years by improved operations. It is difficult to totally avoid due to many possible factors that give rise to these fires,” said Madonda.

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