Waste management: Cut the price of progress

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Nothing comes without a price. This age-old adage is particularly true when applied to the concept of human development. As countries strive for improved living conditions and prosperity, the most noticeable price they pay is an increase in waste generation. Namibia is rising to this challenge through improving waste collection and disposal facilities in some of the country’s major towns and developing important legislation on pollution control, reports Jacquie Tarr, a free-lance writer on environmental issues.

A glance at the vast array of goods that are available to consumers today categorises most of them into glass, paper, metal, plastic or chemical products – all of which are highly polluting to produce and most of which create an enormous headache once they are no longer useful and must be thrown away. Few options are available, even in the best-case scenario – discarded goods are either incinerated, banished to the dump, disgorged into rivers or dumped on the seabed. Each of these options either costs governments and local authorities huge amounts of money or serves merely to place the problem firmly out of sight.

It is an unfortunate fact of modern life that the richer communities become, the more energy and raw materials they consume, the greater the volumes of waste they generate and the more complex and potentially hazardous that waste becomes. During the 1970s it became evident that poorly planned mines, paper mills, plastic factories and other developments were more often than not responsible for contaminating water sources, the atmosphere and soil – ultimately threatening human health and survival. Litter became more visible as increasing numbers of people became engulfed by consumerism. In the developed world communities began to voice their concerns about pollution and the mutters of disapproval periodically uttered since the industrial revolution evolved into roars of protest.

Concern at Rio Summit

By the time the Rio Earth Summit was held in 1992, the world’s growing pollution problem was highlighted as one of the environmental issues of greatest concern to the global community.  In response governments put strong legal and fiscal incentives in place to force householders and industries to reduce the amount of waste they produced. Innovative and imaginative ways to re-use and recycle goods were developed and in some western European countries these efforts resulted in impressive 50% reductions in waste produced between 1990 and 1995.

Unfortunately most developing countries have not yet been able to follow these examples. Although their expanding human populations, rapid rates of urbanisation and industrial growth have contributed to increasing both the volume and variety of waste they generate, legislation regarding pollution control and waste management systems in these countries have struggled to keep up. Namibia is no exception to this general rule and pollution, particularly litter accumulation, has developed into a serious problem during the past ten years.

Levels of public involvement in litter abatement are low and efforts at large-scale recycling are severely hampered by limited water supplies and the fact that the nearest recycling plants for paper, glass, tins and plastics are a costly 1 500 km away in South Africa. Most worrying is the inadequate handling of hazardous waste, which demands expensive and highly specialised treatment.

Recycling efforts

Despite these constraints, attitudes to waste management have begun to change and the outlook regarding pollution control in Namibia is more positive now than ever before. Efforts by local authorities in some of the major towns have intensified and in 2001 a highly sophisticated waste disposal unit comprised of a hazardous waste disposal site and incinerator that for the first time meet international standards, was completed for Walvis Bay. The local authorities in this town have also made provision for the collection of recyclable glass, paper and tin cans.

Private companies (for example Move-a-Mess and Rent-a-Drum) help municipalities keep Namibia’s large and burgeoning urban areas relatively litter free and many small-scale recycling efforts have been initiated, thus creating awareness and opening up opportunities for informal job creation. Art exhibitions demonstrating the diversity of objects that can be created from scrap materials – from unique objects d’art to attractive utilitarian articles that can help generate funds for rural communities – have encouraged Namibians to contemplate options for re-use before objects are eventually banished to the dump.

Localised attempts to alleviate poverty have also been initiated. For instance, the Windhoek municipality has developed an effective way of trying to keep its informal areas and open spaces clean through the use of unemployed individuals who are hired on a daily basis to collect refuse and pick up litter. In addition the proposed Ujams Integrated Biosystem Project is aimed at achieving “zero emissions” by utilising organic waste sludge from the Windhoek breweries and manure discarded by the Windhoek abattoir for livestock fodder, a substrate to grow mushrooms and earthworms and to improve soil quality for the commercial cultivation of flowers. Waste water that has been treated in an environmentally sound manner will be used to irrigate the flowers.

Legislation and education

However, the most important change that has come about regarding waste management in Namibia has been the development of long-overdue draft legislation. As soon as the Pollution Control Bill has been passed by Parliament, it will provide a co-ordinating framework for waste management in the country. This legislation will pave the way for the establishment of a Pollution Control and Waste Management Agency, which will oversee efforts to prevent and regulate the discharge of contaminants into the air, water and land. Strict enforcement will guarantee that “Polluter Pays “ principles are put in place – thus ensuring that businesses, companies and manufacturers hold the ultimate responsibility for cleaning up their own polluting wastes. Enforcing this principle has achieved fantastic results in other countries where, in order to avoid the huge costs associated with pollution clean-up, industries have developed resourceful and effective ways of reducing the effluents they produce.

Currently, however, the buildup of domestically generated litter and not industrial effluent remains the biggest pollution problem in Namibia. Con-sequently “polluter pays” principles enforced through economic incentives that persuade the wealthy members of society to reduce their overtly consumptive lifestyles should be introduced. At the same time more efficient means of cleaning up the litter that escapes into the rural and urban environments must be sought. One proposal suggested through the Directorate of Environmental Affairs is to place a modest levy on the importation and production of all packaging materials including bottles, tins, cartons, plastic bags and containers. Income generated from these levies could be used to subsidise a public service institution with branches in all major and some minor towns that will stimulate employment creation and be responsible for promoting good practice, awareness creation, and keeping the towns and countryside litter free.

Ongoing environmental education and awareness campaigns with specific focus on the many causes of pollution and how to prevent it are essential. This will help create a society that is able to voice its demands for a cleaner and healthier environment.

This article appeared in the 2002 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

 

 

 

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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