pelican.jpg (333200 bytes)   A Bird's Eye View on Waste

Waste Management

Conference Programme

The Role of the Private Sector in Waste Management
in South Africa and other SADC countries
by Ken O. Bromfield
Executive Director, EnviroServ Holdings LImited
South Africa



  1. Capacity and distribution of Private Sector.
  2. Legislation and enforcement.
  3. Role within South Africa.
  4. Role with other SADC members.
  5. Conclusion.



South Africa produces almost 540 million tons of waste per annum (see figure I), the bulk of which is generated by primarily the mining and secondly the power generation industries. These wastes are deposited in large dumps and tailing dams and are generally handled by the generator or specialist contractors.

The remainder of these wastes is what the balance of this paper reports on and covers the volumes generated by industry, commerce, domestic households, medical institutions and sewerage treatment works. This volume is approximately 66 million tons per annum (see figure II).


Until the late 1960’s the transportation and disposal of waste was virtually entirely the preserve of the local authorities and a few industries where from necessity they had their own disposal facilities at the site of generation.

At this point of time the only waste transport companies served the scrap metal industry where the value of the metal was the motivator.

At the end of 1960’s the first local private waste company was formed as a joint venture between a U.K. company, Purle Waste and Darling and Hodgson, a South African construction and materials manufacturing and transport company. This waste company was the first private company to specialised in the collection, transportation and disposal of wastes. Included in these wastes were both non-hazardous and hazardous wastes and the company opened the country’s first private hazardous waste disposal site in Germiston, Gauteng. The company name was changed to Waste-Tech in the 1970’s and in 1997 was absorbed into EnviroServ Holdings Limited, the first waste company to be listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

The success of the first private waste company prompted other entrepreneurs to enter the market which gained further impetus when in the early 1980’s the Johannesburg City Council elected to contract out certain of its collection and transport operations; initially limited to the hire of vehicles. Other local authorities followed suit, contracting out full collection and transport services, and in the last ten years, also contracting out the management and operation of some landfill sites.

Urbanisation and the ever increasing interest in materials recovery, erroneously referred to as ‘recycling’, has given the industry further opportunity for growth.

Countrywide there are now well over 100 operators, varying in size from mainly small firms of one man operators up to a few large firms of which only two have a national presence.

These operators have mainly limited themselves to collection, transport and ‘recycling’ operations and only a handful have ventured into establishing and operating landfill sites. This is primarily due to the establishment cost, risk and operational expense needed to manage landfill sites. The local authorities have followed a similar pattern and while most are active in the collection, transport and disposal of non-hazardous wastes, only Cape Town and Uitenhage have ventured into the disposal of hazardous wastes and then only on a limited scale.

Today there exists a wide distribution of private companies able to transport wastes and there are 6 Hazardous landfill sites respectively in Cape Town; Port Elizabeth; Durban (2); Springs and Pretoria owned and operated by the private sector.


Besides the profit motive, the most significant drivers of the development of a private waste industry is the existence and enforcement of legislation. Up until the end of the 1980’s legislation was fragmented, very limited and spread amongst some 33 Acts of parliament. These acts were supported by local and provincial authority bye-laws and various departmental directives.

Enforcement was generally of a poor standard by few inspectors with limited knowledge and powers who generally focused only a single aspect of the law and ignored the balance of transgressions.

Hazardous landfills were issued with a ‘consent’ permit, which was based on overseas (mainly U.K.) practise and on the assumption that if we had suitable legislation it would be similar in content.

Surprisingly our legislation even at this stage was not significantly behind the balance of the industrialised world’s with countries like the U.S.A. only introducing appropriate legislation in the late 1970’s and forming the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in about 1980. We were thus only some 10 years behind!

Since the promulgation of our Environmental Conservation Act No 73 in 1989 there has been a more concerted attempt by the authorities to bring about better legislation for waste generation, transportation and disposal, culminating in the draft National Waste Management Strategy recently published.

However this unfortunately this has not been carried through in terms of practical enforcement. Currently not a single provincial government has, for instance, included in their master plans for their province the identification of areas where hazardous disposal facilities can be located and apparently have not recognised this need in their planning.

DWAF’s trilogy of minimum requirements and guidelines documents while most commendable only become enforceable once they have been included in a landfill permit. This allows operators to ignore these guidelines provided they do not apply for a permit and are almost immune from prosecution.

Similarly the situation with bio-hazardous (medical) waste exists whereby the disposal industry in this specialised field operates without

the assistance of legislation and transgressors are seldom brought to book as legislation is at best vague and at worst non-existent.


The private sector has much to offer the waste industry and the country since it has many advantages over local and provincial authorities, these being:

  • Flexibility in areas of operation
  • Flexibility in choice and range of equipment
  • Flexibility in pay packages and ability to attract the best qualified staff
  • Ability to raise capital
  • Ability to incentivise employees
  • Economies of scale
  • General ability to be more efficient

On the other hand the private sector is constrained by a number of issues, including:

  • Resistance by trade unions to contracting out of services
  • "Double standards" allowed in that local authorities are perceived to operate at lower than legal requirements.
  • Empire building by local authorities
  • Bylaws restricting certain categories of work for exclusively the local authorities
  • Poor legislation
  • Lack of and inconsistent enforcement of legislation

All of these resulting in high investment and high risk with few guarantees of level playing fields. The sooner an integrated and co-ordinated legislative framework is introduced and enforced preferably through a single body similar to the EPA in the U.S.A.; the sooner the benefits of a viable private sector will be felt.


South Africa has developed in spite of many shortcomings both a potential legislative framework and state-of-the art- facilities that can be utilised by all SADC members.

A single code of legislation throughout the region will simplify the enforcement of all rules and even out the restraints for all industrialists. Currently the very real prospects loom of industries and job creation ventures establishing themselves outside the borders of South Africa because they can ‘get away’ with nil or lower environmental standards.

Similarly as South Africa becomes more and more dependent on drawing water from its neighbours, the greater interest we have that our neighbours are not polluting the headwaters.

By making available South Africa’s facilities to neighbouring countries they can gain economic benefit and we can be assured of the state of practise.

In all these areas the private sector can play a major part in co-operation with the authorities.


South Africa has a well developed waste management industry able to serve the needs of our country and other SADC members.

Subject to suitable legislation being enforced consistently this industry can play a major role in protecting our environment, enhancing the health of our nation and promoting our region as a major tourist destination


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