The looming landfill crisis and how recycling can help

However, we need to be aware of the waste we generate and what is going into our landfill as South Africa is running out of landfill space and we are on the verge of a crisis. Johannesburg has a maximum of three years left until its landfills reach capacity, according to the President of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA), Leon Grobbelaar.

Landfil crisis  [photo]

Firstly, what is a landfill and why are they bad?

A landfill is basically a rubbish dump or garbage site and is the most common and oldest form of waste disposal. They are a necessary evil as they provide a large, uninhabited space where a city or town’s rubbish can go, however, because the garbage just sits in this space, piling up year after year, decade after decade, landfills are not only dirty and foul smelling, the rotting waste in landfills also releases harmful gases into the soil and atmosphere, not only polluting our water and environment, but also posing serious health risks for us.

Methane and carbon dioxide make up 90-98% of landfill gas. Methane is 84 times more effective at absorbing the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a huge contributor to climate change. Unsurprisingly, exposure to methane causes 1 million premature deaths every year.

It’s clear that in order to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions, we need to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills.

How can we help reduce waste to landfill?

With landfill space running out and with the knowledge that landfills pose health risks and pollute our air and ground water, it’s up to every person in South Africa to reduce their waste and stop certain waste from going into landfill.

Here are 3 ways to help:
  1. Recycle

    Recyclable materials like paper, cardboard, plastic, cans, and glass should not go into your general waste as they do not belong in a landfill. These materials are valuable commodities that can be reclaimed and recycled to create new products. These new products are then recycled again at the end of their life, and this continues on and on. This is what is termed a “circular economy”, which has the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as less virgin material has to be mined from the earth to create new products.

    Recycling Icons  [icons]

    So, please separate your recyclables from your general/non-recyclable waste, and remember to keep recyclables empty, dry, and clean to ensure they do get recycled. To make sure an item can be recycled, look for the recycling icon (chasing arrows) and accompanying code on the back.

    If you don’t yet recycle, we can help you start, it’s easy and convenient.

  2. Put food waste into a compost bin/pile

    Many people still put their food scraps and organic waste (like garden refuse) into their general waste that is headed for landfill. This is the majority of the population’s daily habit and “normal” behaviour we have always followed, and there is a misconception that food and organic waste will biodegrade (break down) in landfill.

    These huge rubbish dumps with their millions of tonnes of waste piled on top of each other lack the oxygen and insects/organisms (that literally eat organic matter) that biodegradable and compostable items need to fully decompose in a proper composting facility. Newspapers (although yellowed and old – thus rendering them not useable at this point) have been found decades later still with their ink on and mostly intact (this is why many types of paper and cardboard must be recycled). Carrots have been found brown on the outside but still orange on the inside. Landfills literally mummify our trash, so they never get smaller, but rather, as more rubbish goes into landfill, it gets bigger and bigger.

    By putting our food waste and garden refuse (termed as ‘wet waste’) into the compost instead of the trash bin, huge amounts of waste can be reduced from going into landfill, and with that, reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, even organic and food waste release toxic greenhouse gases (see methane and carbon dioxide’s harmful effects above) and poisonous chemicals like leachates which contaminate our groundwater. Water contamination by landfill leachates can cause health conditions such as allergies, stomach disorders, blood disorders, renal failure, seizures, birth defects and even cancer.

    Composting all your organic waste is easy and rewarding, as you create your own compost and save money on going to buy it at the nursery! Check out Mpact Plastic Containers’ composter here, You can also enquire at your local municipality to see if they offer free compost bins, if they don’t, request this and put pressure on local government to play its part in reducing waste to landfill.

    The Western Cape aims to reduce food and organic waste to landfill by 100% by 2027, and in an attempt to achieve this, has given out free compost bins to its residents.

    For those who live in flats or apartments, a compost bin is not impossible – all you need is a small space, perhaps under your sink or on your balcony, and a small container. Once the compost is ready, you can use on your plants inside your home or on your balcony, sell it onto farmer’s markets or even scatter in your local park or public garden beds, giving back to the earth. Now imagine that same valuable organic waste being wasted in a landfill, it’s simply inconceivable that we don’t all compost our food scraps.

  3. Reduce your consumption of goods

    This one is obvious but more challenging for most of us, given that we live in a consumerist culture and our lives are driven by convenience. However, by changing our consumer behaviour in small ways, we can use less in our everyday lives and reduce the amount of rubbish that goes into our overburdened landfills.

    Here are 7 ways to reduce your waste:
    1. When it comes to clothes and even home décor, consider vintage and thrift shopping.
    2. If you’re cleaning out your clothes cupboard, give them to a charity or thrift store.
    3. Try and only buy goods/food that can be recycled. Always look for the polymer identification code (the number in the triangle) that’s stamped or printed on the packaging and choose the packaging codes that are recyclable.
    4. Take your own reusable bags to the shops. It’s a really easy way to ensure that you show your commitment to being a responsible consumer.
    5. Reduce food waste by only shopping for what you need and freezing leftover food to eat the next day.
    6. If you can rather make your own, grow your own or do without it, then do.
    7. Live by the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” – this can be applied to the food we eat, the clothes we wear and all the things we buy.

Recycling not only helps our landfills, it also helps our people and our economy.

By recycling, you’re not only helping to reduce waste to landfill, you’re also helping to support tens of thousands of jobs in the South African recycling and packaging industries. In the informal sector, waste reclaimers also rely on recyclables, which they collect and sell on to Mpact Recycling branches, dealers and buy-back centres. This is often their only source of income and a way to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads.

So, keep recycling through your school, office, residential estate, or private home. Contact us today.

COOKIES: This site uses cookies to enhance your website experience. See our cookie policy for further details.