South Africa is well known for its beautiful land, sunny skies and exquisite wild life and has an abundance of natural resources. However, more than 90% of all the waste generated in South Africa does not get recycled and as a result landfills are reaching saturation point, spoiling the environment and generating toxic pollutants. The waste generated in South Africa on an annual basis is equivalent to a staggering 9.5 million metric tons which is equivalent to 15 000 Eiffel towers of waste.
With the focus on the preservation of the environment for future generations, the answer for both large organizations as well as individuals may lie in the integration of modern waste management techniques into an Environmental Waste Management Plan utilizing the 3 R’s:
• Recycle • Reuse • Reduce
By implementing small changes in our daily routines and instituting the principals of the 3 R’s, we can have a profound impact on the preservation of the environment.
Water Conservation Recently, it has become painfully clear that we live in a semi-arid country, with dams levels at all-time lows in large parts of the country. Consequently, a market for products and accessories focusing on water re-utilization has emerged as of late. Did you know that every 1mm of rain that falls on every 1m2 of roof is equal to 1 litre of water? This means that if a roof is 15m long and 13m wide and you get 20mm of rain, it is equal to 3900 litres of water which could be saved by installing a receptive rain water tank. By contrast, a single cistern toilet wastes 12 litres of water per flush. Your saved rain water could give you 325 free toilet flushes. Also, by placing a brick (which is equal to 1 litre of water in volume) in the toilet cistern, you would save another litre of water per flush. Research shows that each employee flushes the office toilet 3-4 times per day. This means that at least 36 litres of water is being used per person per day. Implementing the brick method will have an immediate effect of saving 3-4 litres of water per person per day. Using the rain water tank to fill the toilet cistern will provide further savings.
Plastic Waste A primary factor contributing to the increased burden on landfills in South Africa is the copious amounts of plastic waste, of which only 17% is recycled. Chemicals utilized in the plastic manufacturing process have been shown to have a negative effect on the human body once they are absorbed. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones. Plastic debris containing chemicals are also often ingested by marine animals and poison wildlife. Furthermore, floating plastic waste, which can survive for thousands of years in water, serves as an introduction vector for invasive species, disrupting habitats. In addition, plastic buried deep in landfills can leach harmful chemicals that spread into groundwater. Around 4 % of world oil production is used to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process. People are exposed to these chemicals from plastic multiple times per day through the air, dust, water, food and use of consumer products. For example, phthalates are used as plasticizers in the manufacture of vinyl flooring and wall coverings, food packaging and medical devices. Eight out of every ten babies, and nearly all adults, have measurable levels of phthalates in their bodies.
Energy Sources In 2012 around 7 million people died worldwide from illness relating to toxic pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. The energy source most commonly used for electricity production, are fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, which are known as non-renewable resources. Two-thirds of the world’s electricity comes from burning these natural resources. These emissions fuel climate change through the greenhouse gases effect, and they also pose a serious threat to our health and environment. These threats include smog, acid rain, toxic mercury, and fine particles which can become embedded into our pulmonary system. Electricity utilization reduction can result in several benefits to not only organizations but individual households in terms of environmental preservation as well as expenditure reduction. TVs, computers, cell phone chargers and other appliances use electricity even on standby, so remember to unplug them. Switching to energy saving bulbs and LED’s can result in saving 75% more electricity than traditional incandescent light bulbs and last 25 times longer.
Environmental Management System An effective Environmental Management System should form part of the core systems of an organization. An Environmental Management Plan should be integrated into the scope of the organization’s functions and follow the basic principles of a Deming Cycle, namely, Plan, Do, Check, and Act. The integration of the Plan should begin with an analysis of the process flows of the organization and identify the inherent waste streams from waste generation points, either as a direct product of the process or a sub-product generated from the process.
Waste stream identification is the Plan part of the Environmental Management Plan and also forms the basis of a commonly referred principle called the “Cradle to Grave” principle which basically entails the responsibilities and actions that an organization or an individual would undertake to ensure that specific waste is dealt with in accordance with the applicable legislation or regulations from inception of that waste to its responsible disposal. Examples of this legislature can include disposal of hazardous chemical or biological waste or even the venting of emissions into the atmosphere in accordance with the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (39/2004).
Upon identification of the waste stream and its introduction into the process, the organization must then plot interventions at key points in the organization’s waste generation. These Interventions form the next level of the Environmental Management Plan and pertain to the “Do” aspect of the Deming cycle. The interventions employed are largely dependent on the waste stream specifications, the quantification of the waste, its disposal requirements (legislative and practical) as well as the applicability to the 3R’s (Recycle, Reuse or Reduce). An example of an organizations recycling program can be implemented by placing bins that are appropriately labelled to facilitate waste segregation and subsequent recycling, or by the reduction of resources that generate waste, such as electricity. For example, the use of photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal systems to power your business and heat water.
The third aspect of the Environmental Management Plan and the third part of the Deming cycle is the verification or effectiveness or “Check” step which involves the organization verifying the steps implemented and actual reduction values. Upon detection of anomalies, deviations or not meeting of prescribed targets, the fourth aspect of the Environmental Management Plan and the Deming cycle would be to “Act” or implement an action plan to rectify said anomalies or deviations and reach the prescribed targets set.
The process of waste reduction will not show results overnight. It is a process that takes time to reflect the benefits and requires not only strong coordination but committed leadership as well as participation of all employees at all levels. The Environmental Management Plan provides a structure and basis for awareness to be raised amongst the workforce as well as alter the general ‘Wasteful” culture we have all become accustomed to. This cultural change must not only be expressed in the workplace but in our homes as well which will carry us all forward in conserving and protecting the One World we have.
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