- MANAGING THE WASTE PROBLEM
- Travelling through Africa one is fortunate enough to witness numerous
examples of enterprising forms of waste usage. Small paraffin lamps made from the metal of
old oil cans are proudly displayed in every self-respecting market on the continent, and
in Uganda one is even able to procure a U$1 pair of sandals consisting solely of the
rubber from worn-out car tyres. In the forests of Central Africa where those eye-sore
plastic packets are virtually non-existent, a far more biodegradable form of packaging is
used, namely large leaves tied up at the stems to provide one with the perfect container
for everything ranging from grilled fish to sugar.
- In many respects developing countries are leading the way when it
comes to sustainable use and re-use of resources. According to a recent HABITAT report,
per capita waste in the developed world has increased threefold over the past 20 years and
is now approximately five to six times higher than in the developing world.
This huge discrepancy in waste production can essentially be attributed to income levels.
The developing world consumes far less than the industrialised countries and therefore
generates much smaller amounts of waste. Wealthier individuals also
have a tendency to simply replace their old products as opposed to trying to repair or
salvage them. Recycling is another activity which becomes less prevalent as one proceeds
up the income ladder.
- Even in the developing world though, levels of waste are increasing
with some estimates indicating that it could double during the next decade. Many cities in
these countries currently spend as much as 30 to 50 percent of their total municipal
budgets on providing waste management services. Even with such a financial outlay, most of
these authorities are finding themselves unable to keep pace with the growing demand. It
seems clear then that waste generation and the management of it is fast becoming a global
problem. By 2025 some predictions are estimating a five-fold increase in global waste
Areas of Waste Management
While the effective management of waste is increasingly assuming a global importance, the
precise method in which it needs to be tackled necessarily varies according to local
socio-economic and physical conditions, rates of waste generation and waste composition.
Chapter 21 of Agenda 21 describes four major waste-related programme areas, namely:
1. Minimizing wastes;
- 2. Maximising waste recycling and reuse;
- 3. Promoting environmentally sound waste disposal and treatment;
- 4. Extending waste service coverage.
Since the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (Rio, 1992), the
development and implementation of waste minimization strategies has shown some
improvement. According to Agenda 21 "a preventive waste management approach
focused on changes in lifestyles and in production and consumption patterns offers the
best chance for reversing current trends." Implicit in this statement is the need
to reduce waste at its very source by using less packaging and reducing unnecessary
- Many industries in the developed world are starting to realise that
waste minimization can, in many instances, result in improved operational efficiency and
reductions in costs. One company in Toronto, Canada, actually managed to make a
substantial saving in landfill and collection costs by simply instituting a policy of
recycling and insisting that their suppliers eliminate all unnecessary packaging from
their products. Waste minimization practices like these in the industrial sector need to
be encouraged on a wider scale with companies being made more aware of the potential
economic benefits accruing from them. In terms of the developing countries, waste
minimization has been held back by lack of data on waste production at source and waste
collection and disposal. In this area it is clear that developing countries can do with
the kind of support that the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) is
offering in terms of data collection on waste production and in providing policy options
at the municipal level for waste minimization. According to the HABITAT report though,
most countries have yet to incorporate waste minimization into their strategic planning
for solid-waste management. "If the situation remains unchecked there will
be an unprecedented rise in waste production which will be far beyond the capacities of
most countries to manage."
Environmentally Sound Waste Reuse and Recycling
In both the developed and developing
countries there have been significant improvements in this particular area of waste
management since the Rio Conference, albeit for very different reasons. In the developed
countries recycling has been motivated by an increased awareness of the environmental
benefits, whereas in the developing world it has been the opportunity to derive income
that has been the major impetus behind recycling efforts. In cities throughout the
developing world, community groups and the informal sector are increasingly starting to
integrate waste management with income generation. In terms of municipal solid wastes, the
organic wastes are collected and used in compost production, while the inorganic material
is utilised in small-scale recycling industries. The numbers involved in such operations
are sometimes vast, such as in Calcutta where 40 000 people, mostly women and children
have found direct employment in the informal waste economy. Unfortunately, according to
the HABITAT report, much of the work that the informal sector undertakes in waste
collection and disposal goes unrecognised by formal waste-management authorities. It
therefore argues for greater strides being made to include community-based schemes into
the waste-management activities of the public sector. In some instances this will require
a less restrictive operating environment with commensurate changes in legislation and
acceptance by official authorities.
Promoting Environmentally Sound Waste
Disposal and Treatment
- This programme area is of particular relevance when one considers the
potential health hazards arising from improperly treated wastes. This problem is most
acute in the developing countries, where less than ten percent of urban wastes receive
some form of treatment and an even smaller proportion is of an acceptable quality
standard. The main method of disposal still seems to be open dumping and it is feared that
without efficient regulation of the private sector such dumping will only increase with
more and more occurring on unauthorised sites.
Extending Waste Service Coverage
- Although some improvement has been shown in high income residential
areas, low and middle income areas still suffer from extremely poor service coverage.
- The peri-urban areas are of particular concern, given that this is
where most wastes, both solid and liquid are disposed of. These areas require special
attention as it is here where peoples health is most at risk from exposure to toxic
chemicals and pathogens from domestic solid wastes and human faecal wastes.
- As we move into the next millennium more and more innovative
solutions are going to be required in tackling the growing problem of waste. According to
the HABITAT report, many national and local governments currently lack the capacity to
apply strategic planning to solid waste management. Unfortunately it is precisely such
planning coupled with a holistic approach that seems to offer one the best chance of
managing this mounting global problem.
- Programme Manager, GLOBE Southern Africa
- Wetlands, De-mystifying the Ramsar
- South Africa was one of the first signatories to sign the Ramsar
Convention which protects wetlands. But what is this Convention? How does it work? What
wetland work can you do to help SA achieve its obligations and how can we all pressure the
government into fulfilling its obligations to Ramsar?
- What is the Ramsar Convention?
- The full name is the 'Convention on Wetlands of
International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat' and it was adopted in Ramsar,
Iran in 1971 (coming into force in 1975). As of June 1999, there were 116 Contracting
Parties (or countries) in all parts of the world. Approximately 980 wetlands (over 70
million hectares) have been designated as Ramsar Sites. Ramsar is the only
environmental treaty dealing with a particular ecosystem. Ramsar is also the first of the
modern, global, intergovernmental treaties on conservation.
How did it begin?
- In 1971, the representatives of 18 countries went to the
small town of Ramsar in Iran to put their signatures to a Convention on Wetlands, or the
How does it operate?
- The Ramsar Convention promotes the intrinsic functions and services
wetlands provide for human populations, and encourages their wise use. Ramsars
guidelines emphasize the benefits and values of wetlands for: sediment and erosion
control; flood control; maintenance of water quality and abatement of pollution;
maintenance of surface and underground water supply; support for fisheries, grazing and
agriculture; outdoor recreation and education; and climate stability.
- Ramsar aims to provide the tools for involving local people and
stakeholders in the development of management plans for wetlands, whether these are
recognized under the Convention or not.
- UNESCO serves as Depositary for the Convention, but its
administration has been entrusted to a secretariat known as the Ramsar Bureau at IUCN
which co-ordinates day-to-day activities. The conference of the Contracting Parties (those
countries belonging to the Convention) meets every three years to further the application
of the Convention. The Standing Committee, including representatives of the world's seven
regions, meets annually. The Scientific and Technical Review Panel provides guidance on
- Participating countries are encouraged to establish national wetland
committees made up of government and non-governmental bodies. The list of Wetlands of
International Importance is also an important tool of the Convention. Ramsar sites facing
problems can receive technical assistance. Small grants are available for conservation and
wise-use projects (although this is limited to one site per country). The Convention also
publishes technical and educational materials including a newsletter.
How does South Africa benefit from
being a member?
- For over 30 years the Convention has served as an essential mechanism
towards heightening awareness of wetlands. It has also protected specific wetlands. For
example, a project to mine heavy metals from the dunes at the St Lucia Ramsar site was
stopped due to local and international pressure (two of South Africas 16 Ramsar
sites are on private land and the rest are in reserves).
- In global terms the Convention has served to draw attention to
wetlands. At a regional level it has served to cement treaties and agreements on wetland
use and management. At a country level it has helped to draw attention to important
wetlands, improve protection and contributed to restoration. One of its greatest strengths
is its simplicity.
What are the SA governments
- The Convention sets out five primary obligations for signatories:
- To designate and promote the conservation of at least one Ramsar
Site (although members are encouraged to designate all of their sites that are
internationally important) to co-operate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared
wetland species and development aid for wetland projects around the country.
- To formulate and implement planning for the wise use of all
wetlands in their territory (not just Ramsar sites)
- To establish conservation areas and promote training in wetland
management and research
- To consult with other contracting parties about the implementation
of the Convention.
- To contribute to the Convention budget (South Africa pays R30. 000
per year in membership fees)
- Develop programmes of wetland inventory,
monitoring, training, education, public awareness and research
- What does South Africa need to do for wetlands?
- "South Africa must develop a national wetland policy because
without one, there is no overall co-ordination of NGOs, business and government
departments on wetland work," emphasises David Lindley, national co-ordinator of the
Rennies Wetlands Project, who recently returned from the 7th Ramsar Conference
of Parties in Costa Rica. "Lack of co-ordination is a major problem. Yet, for some
reason, the South African government is stalling on developing a policy."
- South Africa also needs to pay more attention to wise use of
wetlands, establish more wetland conservation areas and promote training in wetland
management and research, Lindley argues. Wetland conservation should in fact be part of
national land-use planning.
According to Ramsars wise use guidelines, South Africa should:
- Adopt national wetland policies, involving review of existing
legislation and institutional arrangement
- Take action at wetland sites involving integrated
Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002
This was adopted in 1996 and includes eight objectives to be
carried out by Contracting Parties, including South Africa:
1. To progress towards universal membership of the
2. To achieve the wise use of wetlands by implementing and
developing the Ramsar Wise Use Guidelines.
3. To raise awareness of wetland values and functions
throughout the world.
4. To reinforce capacity of institutions in each Contracting
Party to achieve conservation and wise use of wetlands.
5. To designate wetlands for the Ramsar List (including
underrepresented and transfrontier wetlands).
6. To mobilise international co-operation and funding for wetland
7. To provide the Convention with the required resources.
Future challenges for the Ramsar
Perhaps the most important goal is to increase the total number and
area of Ramsar sites around the world (it is likely that there are at least another 1 000
sites of international importance comprising at least another 100 million hectares).
- What can you do?
- Lobby government by writing letters or organising campaigns
around wetlands that are being abused or neglected. Review the Ramsar requirements,
notably the Strategic Plan 1997 to 2 002 and see if you think our government is up to
scratch and if not, complain. Contact Geoff Cowan at the Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism on phone 012 - 3103701 or fax 012 - 322 2682. This Department is
responsible for implementing the Ramsar Convention.
- Ensure that Ramsar sites are representative of all
- Improve the management of wetland sites on private
- Make people part of the solution, not just government
- Adopt a catchment approach to wetland management
- Address the emerging crisis in freshwater resources
- - Strengthen international coordination to improve the conservation
and wise use of wetlands.
- For more information on the Ramsar Convention you can access the
website at: http://iucn.org/themes/ramsar/ or contact David Lindley, Director of the
Rennies Wetlands Project on fax: (011) 486 3369 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org