22 September 2009

Recycling under the Waste Act

One of the aims of the newly enacted National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 59 of 2008, (Waste Act) is to encourage the reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of waste. It therefore seems incongruous that it imposes stringent requirements upon those conducting waste reducing activities.

Waste is widely defined in the Waste Act and includes any substance which is, amongst other things, surplus, unwanted, rejected, discarded, abandoned or disposed of, whether or not it can be reduced, re-used, recycled or recovered. It is only once the substance is re-used, recycled or recovered that it ceases to be waste.

The Waste Act prohibits any person from commencing, undertaking or conducting certain so-called 'waste management activities' without an appropriate waste management licence. Waste management activities are divided into two categories. Category A activities require that a basic assessment be conducted as part of a waste management licence application, whereas category B activities require that a full environmental impact assessment be conducted. These assessments are invariably costly and time consuming and require the appointment of an environmental assessment practitioner and the compilation of a thorough report, including various specialist reports.

Category A is applicable to, among others, the recycling or re-use of general waste of more than 10 tons per month or the recovery of waste at a facility with a capacity to process in excess of three tons of general waste or 500kg of hazardous waste per day. These thresholds mean that those undertaking small scale waste reducing activities will not require a waste management licence. This does not, however, absolve larger recyclers from the responsibility to obtain such a licence.

Given the Waste Act's waste reduction aims, one would have expected that waste reduction activities would be actively encouraged rather than impeded by administrative hurdles. Provided such initiatives are shown to use fewer natural resources and be less harmful to the environment than waste disposal, they should, in our view, be exempted from the obligation to obtain waste management licences.

Julie Kourie
Associate, Environmental Law

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