Irene Inan, WasteAid’s project manager for the Circular Economy Network in Johannesburg, has had a busy first six weeks exploring existing circular economy and resource management activities in the city.
I have worked in waste management sector predominantly my whole career which spans for 14 years. The majority of my waste sector experience has been in designing waste containment facilities and landfill site operations, which involves engaging with waste pickers on the landfill site about their recycling activities.
Coming on board as the Project Manager for the WasteAid Circular Economy Network (CEN) was exciting for me on different levels. The first obvious thing was that the programme did not have a defined path on how we must achieve the objectives, we had a blank page and I needed to identify how we will run with it. One of the key objectives for the programme is to create a network of entrepreneurs and innovators who are working in the recovery and re-use of waste in Johannesburg.
The first point of trajectory was the acknowledgement that the South African waste regulatory framework is one of the best on the African continent and over the course of three decades, the regulatory environment has shifted from landfill management to recycling, and recently towards extended producer responsibility.
In identifying who is doing what on the ground, it is very apparent the waste sector has extensive stakeholders such as producer responsibility organisations, recyclers, the informal sector including waste pickers, existing recycling networks, NGOs and researchers that are doing a lot of initiatives towards awareness for landfill diversion of waste, and subsequently waste valorisation.
WasteAid’s approach to the Circular Economy Network in Johannesburg is not to duplicate or override existing work but rather identify, engage, learn and form collaborations and partnerships with existing initiatives, programmes and stakeholders, and to work in areas where there is less focus or where there are clear gaps.
During my first six weeks in the role, I spent a great deal of my time engaging with some of the key stakeholders in the sector (still an ongoing activity). The first few conversations took shape through discussions with Dr Linda Godfrey (Researcher at CSIR), and Anele Sololo, the General Manager of Producer Responsibility Organisation Recycle ZA amongst others on their work and thoughts on where the opportunities lie for making progress in the recovery and re-use of waste.
What span out for me from those conversations was the following:
1. Even though South Africa has one of the best waste regulations, the basics in the big metropolitans (City of Johannesburg, City of Ekurhuleni and City of Tshwane) lack enforcement of basic principles of waste management and is evident in how the landfill sites are operated and managed.
2. There is a strong need to address other waste types in the recovery and re-use such as builders’ rubble and organics that make up over 60% of waste streams into the landfill sites that are running out of disposal space.
3. There is need for more awareness campaigns in low-income communities were the waste management challenges are prominent.
4. There is need for more regulatory enforcement towards waste separation at source in high, middle and low-income communities.
5. The economic value of some waste streams such as tetrapak does not give sufficient incentive to waste pickers towards their recovery and re-use.
6. The PROs have existing training and awareness programmes for various stakeholders.
7. There is a potential for job creation if a circular economy approach is adopted in the low-income communities.
Moving beyond the first six weeks of engagements, the Circular Economy Network will focus its activities on the low-income communities situated around Johannesburg and set up awareness campaigns and training that speaks to the fundamentals of recovery and re-use of waste by engaging entrepreneurs, including waste pickers and innovators.
We aim to grow the network in the form of training and knowledge exchange as well as a competition element to find two top innovators that will receive funding and mentoring support.