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

Waste Management

Conference Programme

Development of a National Waste Management Strategy for South Africa
by Tinus Joubert
Deputy Director, Pollution Control
Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South Africa


The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, with the financial assistance of the Danish Co-operation for Environment and Development (DANCED), developed a National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) during 1997 to 1999. In order to successfully implement this NWMS, current waste management resources and implementing mechanisms will have to be more effectively and efficiently applied and in some instances re-directed and re-deployed to address the initiatives of the highest priority. The systematic implementation National Waste Management Strategy will start in earnest during the second half of 1999.


The Constitution of South Africa states that the people of South Africa have a right to an environment that is not detrimental to human health, and imposes a duty on the state to promulgate legislation and implement policies to ensure that this right is upheld. One step taken to uphold this right is the development of a National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) for South Africa. A project to develop the NWMS was initiated by the Department of Water Affairs and Tourism (DWAF) in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) and with financial support from the Danish Co-operation for Environment and Development (DANCED), in 1997. The overall objective of the NWMS is to reduce the generation of waste and the environmental impact of all forms of waste and to ensure that the socio-economic development of South Africa, the health of the people and the quality of its environmental resources are no longer adversely affected by uncontrolled and uncoordinated waste management.

Consultation with a wide range of stakeholders on the current (1997/98) waste management situation in South Africa identified the following as key issues and needs that have to be addressed by the NWMS:

  • To bring about a paradigm shift from end-of-pipe treatment to waste minimisation.
  • To provide basic waste management services to those sections of the population for whom access to waste collection services has not been available or who receive inadequate services.
  • To ensure proper consideration of public health, occupational health and sustainable environmental protection in all waste management practices.
  • To initiate a system of integrated waste management through the implementation of instruments such as legislation, capacity building, institutional arrangements and funding mechanisms.
  • To ensure integration of waste management initiatives with other governmental initiatives, programmes and administrative systems.


The need for a National Waste Management Strategy, as well as Action Plans for implementing the strategy, was recognised by the DWAF in the early nineties. The momentum for a NWMS increased during the Consultative National Environmental Policy Process (CONNEPP) and the drafting of the Environmental Management Policy for South Africa (DEAT, 1998 a), as well as the promulgation of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) (Office of the President, 1998). The NEMA provides for co-operative environmental governance by establishing principles for decision making on matters affecting the environment.

The point of departure for the development of the NWMS was the Draft White Paper on Integrated Pollution and Waste Management (IP&WM) for South Africa (DEAT, 1998 b), which defines government’s approach to the management of waste. This policy represents a paradigm shift to the management of waste that focuses on waste prevention and minimisation rather than primarily on impact management and remediation. A holistic and integrated approach is defined that extends over the entire waste cycle from cradle to grave including generation, storage, collection, transportation, treatment and final disposal. The NWMS follows the waste hierarchy approach that promotes waste prevention/minimisation as the first step in waste management followed by recycling, treatment and finally disposal.

The NWMS was developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including government at all levels, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, labour, business and industry, and mining.

The strategic goals as set out in the Draft IP&WM policy have formed the basis for the development of the NWMS, i.e.

  • Effective institutional framework and legislation.
  • Waste minimisation, impact management and remediation.
  • Holistic and integrated planning.
  • Participation and partnerships in integrated pollution and waste management governance.
  • Empowerment and environmental education.
  • Information management.
  • International co-operation.

Table 1 summarises in broad terms the key elements of the existing waste management approach as currently (1999) practised in South Africa, compared to the proposed future situation after implementation of the NWMS.

Table 1: Existing and Future Key Elements of Waste Management in South Africa

Existing Waste Management Approach

Strategic Objectives for Integrated Waste Management

Limited focus on control mechanisms

Focus on environmental protection and sustainability

Inadequate waste collection services

Adequate waste collection services for all

Fragmented approach with single media focus

Consolidated multi-media approach

Conflict of interest

Transparency and conflict resolution

Insufficient information

Integrated waste information system

Inadequate environmental planning

Holistic integrated environmental planning and capabilities

Inadequate research and development programmes

Focused research and development cross-cutting implications

Fragmented regulatory approach

Integrated regulatory approach

Regulations inadequately enforced

Enforcement facilitated

Full waste management costs not realised

Polluter pays principle and total cost accounting


The National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) project comprised four stages:

Phase I, The Inception Phase: During the inception phase, final detailed planning for the NWMS project was undertaken. Five specialist task groups were formed dealing with waste minimisation, waste information system, hazardous waste, general waste and strategic planning. This phase was completed in December 1997.

Phase II, The Situation/Baseline Analysis Phase: The four specialist task groups each comprised a Danish team leader, a South African deputy team leader and one or more staff members from the DEAT and the DWAF, as well as additional Danish and/or South African consultants where required. Each task group undertook a situation/baseline analysis that identified respective waste issues, problems and needs that were workshopped with stakeholders. This phase was completed in May 1998

Phase III, The Strategy Formulation Phase: The task groups formed during the Situation/Baseline Analysis Phase of the project were retained. The key issues that were identified during the situation/baseline analysis phase were developed into a broad range of strategic options and scenarios. A risk-based approach was used for selecting the options to be formulated into strategies that took into account the following criteria:

  • Ensure the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources
  • Reduce the impact and risk on safety and health
  • Reduce environmental impact
  • Ensure a sustainable economy
  • Ensure public acceptance.

The strategies formulated were debated at a series of stakeholder workshops and narrowed down to a set of priority initiatives that address the key issues raised by the stakeholders. Based on the input from the workshops, a first draft NWMS (Version a) was compiled. This document

was workshopped cross-sectorially and based on the inputs revised to a second draft (Version b). This draft NWMS was widely circulated for comment that is currently being incorporated into the final NWMS.

Phase IV, Action Plans: The draft NWMS (Version b) identified a number of strategic priority initiatives that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Action plan development for implementation of these initiatives was initiated early 1999 and was due to be completed by September 1999. Detailed requirements and implications of the priority initiatives and associated were investigated and developed.


The approach taken was to investigate seven elements of integrated waste management, namely planning, waste information system, waste minimisation, recycling, collection and transportation, treatment and disposal, in order to develop the priority initiatives and their associated requirements and implications.

The criteria used to develop the priority initiatives were those stipulated in the draft White Paper on IP&WM for South Africa (DEAT, 1998 b), namely:

  • Prevention and minimisation of waste.
  • Direct and visible reduction in the impact on health and environment.
  • Improve the quality of life of all South Africans with the emphasis in the previously disadvantaged communities.
  • Potential for job creation.
  • Potential for rapid and visible results.
  • Optimum utilisation of available resources
  • Sustainable integrated waste management.

To fully address the identified priority initiatives, however, would require the implementation of about 50 major priority initiatives together with the associated resource requirements, institutional changes, new legislation and capacity building requirements. In order to develop a practically implementable strategy the priority initiatives were categorised into short (by the year 2004), medium (by the year 2008) and long-term (by the year 2012 and beyond) priorities. The priority initiatives were analysed to assess the broad requirements (institutional, legislation, capacity building, and financial) and implications for their implementation. A period of about twelve years has been used for the full implementation of the NWMS with a phased approach being proposed. As additional resources become available, action plans for the medium to long-term priority initiatives will be developed.

4.1 Integrated Waste Management Planning

The primary objective of an integrated waste management planning system is to integrate and optimise waste management in order to maximise the efficiency of waste management and minimise the environmental impacts and the financial costs associated with waste management. The integration will be both horizontal and vertical, in all sectors and throughout the waste cycle. A number of stages are addressed in integrated waste management planning, which takes into account the need to develop clear objectives while maintaining the existing system and investigating possible alternatives and selecting the most appropriate waste management system. The waste management hierarchy will form the basis for planning, as well as regionalisation, long-term targets, minimising social impact and maximising social benefits. Integrated waste management planning will be implemented at the three levels of government.

4.2 Waste Information System

A waste information system (WIS) is being developed for the implementation of the NWMS. All waste generators, transporters and disposers will be required to register with the WIS and report specific information. Information will be submitted to the local government that will be responsible for ensuring that all information suppliers in their area of jurisdiction report to the WIS. Raw data will be forwarded to the provincial government that have the responsibility for data processing and quality control assurance, through spot checks and audits. Quality assured data will be forwarded to national government for aggregation, and data dissemination. Information dissemination will be via a wide range of media, e.g. the Internet, printed formats and libraries, to ensure information is available to all stakeholders.

A phased approach with the gradual implementation of the full of WIS system is proposed. In the short-term, information will only be collected from the main producers and transporters of waste and those generators who are identified as producing waste falling into a category of high concern. The aim of the first reporting cycle is to collect the data required for waste management planning and waste disposal.

4.3 Waste Minimisation

Waste minimisation refers to activities taken by the generator of waste to prevent or reduce the volume and/or environmental impact of waste by source reduction and/or internal recycling. To facilitate the structured implementation of this initiative, a National Programme for Waste Minimisation will be developed. In the medium-term, this programme will be extended from its initial focus on solid waste to also provide for the minimisation of emissions to air, soil and water, and will include issues relating to improved resource and energy efficiency. This approach will require integration with related inter-departmental activities and will form part of a broader strategy aimed at promoting cleaner production and sustainable consumption patterns.

4.4 Waste Recycling

Recycling is the separation of recyclable materials from the general waste stream and the reuse of these materials. The objective of recycling is to save resources and reduce the environmental impact by reducing the amount of waste disposed at landfills. Waste separation at source is proposed, as the quality of recyclable materials is higher. In addition, recycling has the potential for job creation and is a viable alternative to informal salvaging at landfills, which is undesirable due to the problems of health and safety associated with salvaging. One long-term objective is the separation of the hazardous component from the general waste stream at source for recycling where appropriate.

4.5 Waste Collection and Transportation

Although waste collection is an integral part of waste management, the main emphasis in South Africa has been on the disposal of waste. Non-collection of waste impacts negatively on the quality of life, the environment and human health. The provision of waste collection services to all unserviced areas, especially the previously disadvantaged communities, is a priority. The establishment of collection services will be prioritised according to the environmental and health risks to the community. The existing standards will be maintained in currently serviced areas and future residential development will be provided with waste collection services from its inception. The formation of public/private partnerships is considered necessary to deliver the services envisaged

The collection and transportation of hazardous waste requires special attention. The introduction of a waste manifest system is proposed for tracking waste from generator to disposer. The establishment of collection/transfer points for hazardous waste will be investigated. The close co-operation between national and provincial government with regard to hazardous waste, monitoring and permitting is essential.

4.6 Waste Treatment

Treatment before disposal is essential to minimise the environmental impact of the waste. The short-term initiative is to address the problem of air emission standards from incinerators. In South Africa, incineration is applied for the disposal of medical waste, as well as for small volumes of general waste. Many incinerators are operated inefficiently and these will be upgraded to meet the revised air emission standards or will be decommissioned. To minimise the volumes of medical waste that require to be incinerated, separation of the waste at source will be promoted and alternative methods of treatment and disposal of the non-infectious waste, investigated.

Regionally based facilities for the treatment of hazardous waste are to be promoted as a more viable option to a large number of small operating plants. The objective is to decrease the dependency of co-disposal in H class (hazardous waste) landfills. In the medium to long-term, waste minimisation initiatives will reduce the amount of hazardous waste requiring treatment. However, international experience has indicated that due to the large amount of stockpiled waste and the time needed to implement waste avoidance strategies, hazardous waste treatment facilities will be required for at least another 20 to 30 years.

4.7 Waste Disposal

Although waste minimisation and recycling will reduce the amount of waste that requires disposal, a portion of the waste stream will still require disposal. The key criteria for safe waste disposal have been identified as the registration, permitting and control of all waste landfills that are audited on a regular basis, as well as the phasing out of co-disposal of hazardous waste with general and other non-hazardous waste. Alternative treatment technologies will be investigated for hazardous waste disposal.

Ultimately landfill sites will be expected to comply with the existing Department of Water Affairs Minimum Requirements (DWAF, 1998) or other appropriate standards. The upgrading of these sites will be the responsibility of the owner or permit holder who will also be required to establish a dedicated remediation fund. The development of a database of all waste sites, including an inventory of old abandoned polluting sites will form input into the WIS. A remediation programme will be developed for these sites.

4.8 Implementing Instruments

A pre-requisite for the implementation of the NWMS is the availability and proper functioning of the following implementing instruments:

  • Institutional framework: The institutional objective of the NWMS is two-fold. Firstly, the concentration of regulatory functions within one environmental lead agent, the DEAT, and secondly the devolving of responsibility to the lowest possible level of government. The existing institutional functions and responsibilities are presently not clearly defined and are characterised by an overlap both horizontally and vertically within the government.
  • Legislation: DEAT are currently undertaking a Law Reform Process, which is aimed at integrating legislation pertaining to the environment to eliminate fragmentation. The

promulgation of NEMA has provided an overarching enabling framework under which other environmental legislation will fall. The first step in the process is to audit the existing legislation. Legislative requirements for the implementation of the NWMS have been identified and these will be considered within the review process. Where considered necessary, the current legislation will be amended.

  • Funding and funding mechanisms: The availability of funds and the establishment of suitable funding mechanisms are a precondition for the successful implementation of the NWMS. Funding of services in South Africa has experienced serious problems over the last five to ten years. The challenge is to reverse this situation. The Polluter-Pays-Principle (PPP) is included in NEMA as a basic financial principle for environmental management. In the context of the NWMS the producer of waste must be responsible for the costs associated with the safe collection, treatment and disposal of waste. Costs include direct costs, management costs and costs related to the prevention and remediation of future problems arising. Initiatives will be investigated in consultation with the Department of Finance and Trade and Industry with regard to the mechanisms for implementing the PPP.
  • Capacity building: The skills and understanding of waste management issues vary considerably between government departments due to the historical approach to waste management. DEAT is in the process of setting up an Environmental Capacity Building Unit at national level, which in the short-term will facilitate capacity building activities within DEAT as well as increasing the national environmental capacity, especially within the areas of waste management and Environmental Impact Assessments. Capacity building requirements will be designed specifically for each level of government as the needs may vary considerably. A longer-term objective of the Unit is to strengthen capacity in the public sector. South Africa has been selected to host the Regional Training Centre on the Basel Convention for the English speaking African countries. This development, as well as other international waste management capacity building initiatives will be promoted and encouraged for building waste management capacity in South Africa.
  • Public participation and partnerships: The promotion of public participation in environmental governance is one of the national environmental management principles stated in NEMA. In line with this legal requirement, appropriate public participation will take place where necessary during the implementation of the NWMS. Stakeholders will be involved as widely as possible and participation will commence at the earliest possible stage of development of the activity. Public participation during the planning, development, operation and decommissioning and closure of waste management facilities will be structures to facilitate extensive community involvement. Partnerships will be encouraged as a means of implementing the NWMS whenever they are environmentally and economically advantageous.
  • Education and public awareness: The success of the NWMS will require the education and empowerment of all South Africans. A prerequisite for the implementation of the NWMS will be the development of an awareness programme that will be aimed at all stakeholders. One longer-term objective is to initiate activities directed towards the educational system, such as the development of teaching material for school and training courses for tertiary institutions.


Action Plans for the implementation of the NWMS are currently (April 1999) under development. The short-term priority initiatives considered to be of the highest priority have been selected for immediate Action Plan drafting. These action plans will deal with integrated

waste management planning, waste information system and implementing instruments (institutional, funding, public participation, legislation and education and awareness), as well as the most urgent aspects of waste collection, transportation, recycling, treatment and disposal. These Action Plans will be compiled by September 1999 and Action Plans for medium to long-term initiatives will be developed thereafter. Once government has formally approved the draft NWMS, a programme for implementation will be initiated that will address urgent administrative and other issues.


The NWMS represents an ambitious plan for addressing key issues, needs and problems experience in waste management in South Africa. This is a first generation strategy that aims at initiating action by both government and civil society that will eventually result in an integrated waste management system for South Africa. The NWMS was developed for all the people of South Africa. Strategy development is seen as a dynamic process that will be regularly reviewed (every four or five years) to take account of the progress made, changing needs and priorities, as well as the realities of practical implementation.


The authors wish to thank all those organisations, institutions and individuals that have contributed to the development of the National Waste Management Strategy. They acknowledge the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry for permission to publish the paper. Danced is acknowledged for its financial contribution to the development of the NWMS.


Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT, 1998 a) White Paper on Environmental Management Policy for South Africa, Notice 749 of 1998, Government Gazette, 15 May 1998

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT, 1998 b) Draft White Paper on Integrated Pollution and Waste Management for South Africa: A Policy on Pollution Prevention, Waste Minimisation, Impact Control and Remediation, Notice 1686 of 1998, Government Gazette, 19 August 1998.

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF, 1998) Minimum Requirements, Waste Management Series, Second Edition, 1998.

Office of the President (Office of the President) National Environmental Management Act, Act No. 107 of 1998, Notice No. 1540, Government Gazette, 27 November 1998.


Tinus Joubert*, Leon Bredenhann**, Julie Borland*** and Herman Wiechers***

*  Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism, Private Bag X447, Pretoria

** Department of Water Affairs & Forestry, Private Bag X313, Pretoria

*** Wiechers Environmental Consultancy, PO Box 23077, Randburg Waterfront, 2125, South Africa.