Waste minimisation clubs in South Africa : towards a sustainable model.
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Every time a good is produced, waste occurs as an unwanted by-product. Waste has become a real environmental issue across the world, contributing to the degradation of the environment and human health. As part of a local and international effort to lessen industrial pollution, a concept to reduce waste production at source was introduced to companies in the early 1990s. Pioneered in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK), this concept has been termed 'waste minimisation'. Waste minimisation is achieved by implementing changes to business practices and processes, such as improved housekeeping (e.g. prevention of spills), and changes to equipment that is less wasteful. It is often undertaken by a group of organisations, including for example service providers, manufacturing companies and regulators that join a waste minimisation club (WMC). This provides an opportunity in which training can be received by, waste minimisation assessments made on, and information and ideas about waste reduction at source exchanged by member companies. WMCs have been used successfully in Europe to achieve waste minimisation in industry and residential communities. This study aims to contribute to the development of a sustainable WMC model in South Africa. It analyses the WMC support structures in South Africa and compares them to support structures offered in the UK. This offers a point of reference from which the impact of South African support structures on WMCs in general, and the Pietermaritzburg Waste Minimisation Club (PWMC) in particular, can be established. The PWMC consists of small and medium companies across sectors, each with less than 200 employees and with an annual turnover less than 40 million rand. The club was initiated by the Pollution Research Group of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). It was the first of its kind in South Africa, having been facilitated on a small budget by staff and students from the UKZN. The study found that the self-help approach adopted by the PWMC was only partially successful. The PWMC was successful in terms of raising awareness of its members to waste minimisation issues. The study also found that member companies, both from the PWMC and WMCs generally, need to be shown in practical terms that 2 waste minimisation can result in financial savings before management buy-in can be attained. If more University manpower had been allocated, in the form of students for instance, to identify and orchestrate implementation of sustainable waste minimisation solutions, the PWMC member adoption rate of waste minimisation may have been raised. The small PWMC budget may have made this impossible, however. Lack of funding may also have prevented facilitators putting together a large support team, as has been done for a similar and more successful project in England. This demonstrates that self-help WMCs need an initial funding boost to be successful. This funding should be invested in gaining buy-in from company personnel rather than to drive the waste minimisation process on behalf of member companies. Driving waste minimisation on behalf of companies or 'hand-holding' leads to a passive acceptance of waste minimisation as is currently the case in South Africa, as well as 'shirking' as has been observed in the UK. Such a facilitated self-help approach can then lay the basis for WMCs, which use the support infrastructure established by their predecessors. Studies of WMCs in England and Wales based on a self-help approach showed that they achieved financial savings that are comparable to those in demonstration clubs. The promotion of such sustainable WMCs in South Africa needs to be performed by a central support agency such as the British Envirowise. Envirowise was seen to successfully promote waste minimisation among those it reached. However, it reached only a small percentage of overall industry. A successful South African agency therefore needs to promote itself effectively and nation-wide. A successful South African Envirowise organisation should also facilitate the creation of WMCs by leading a forum of industry, service providers, higher education and waste minimisation champions of proven worth, to create an action plan for WMC development for each province. Each province would then allocate funds for a waste minimisation champion who, in conjunction with the local development agency, would create a provincial action plan for the development of facilitated self-help WMCs. The local support and expertise recruited to form and manage WMCs would decrease costs and leverage income. This kind of support agency needs to be upheld by waste management legislation based on the concept of sustainable development, recognising the need for environmental protection alongside that of economic growth. To date no such legislation is in place in South Africa. It is hoped that the White Paper on Integrated Pollution and Waste Management, which endorses the principle of sustainable development alongside with the necessity to reduce waste at source, will form the basis for a successful South African WMC culture.