As the first cement manufacturer in southern Africa to publish an environmental policy – as early as 1994 – environmental concerns are a central mandate for the AfriSam management team, according to Nivashni Govender, environmental specialist at AfriSam.
“We consider ourselves as leaders in this field within the cement and construction materials sector, as it has been our focus since the early 1990s,” says Govender. “Our prioritisation of people, planet and performance is now a personal commitment for each employee in their area of work.”
Water is a key focus for the company across its cement, ready-mix concrete and aggregate divisions, she highlights. At the cement operations, considerable water volumes are required for dust suppression and other purposes – so rainwater is collected and stored in sumps, as well as in the mining areas. This is used to meet many of the plant requirements, to the extent that the Ulco plant near Barkly West in the Northern Cape, does not rely on municipal water supply. Drawing a limited volume from the Vaal River, the operation treats water for its own use, including potable water, thus reducing reliance on the already stressed municipal system.
“It is also vital for us to monitor water quality at our cement and aggregate plants, so we conduct monthly testing on all applicable waterpoints,” she says. “By applying certain parameters for identifying chemicals through SANAS accredited laboratories, we are able to pick up any signs of pollution timeously and respond accordingly.”
As part of the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and put the brakes on climate change, AfriSam
has taken several approaches over the past 20 years to reduce its carbon footprint. These range from
the development of composite (or extended) cements to ongoing energy-efficiency initiatives at its cement plants.
The company has for many years been a leader in the development of composite cements. These cements contain not only clinker but other cementitious materials such as fly ash from power stations and ground granulated blast-furnace slag (GGBS) from steel-making plants.
“In addition to essentially re-using waste products from other industries, this process also reduces the amounts of limestone that we have to mine and clinker we have to produce, again reducing carbon emissions from those processes, as well as reducing waste to landfill,” she says. “We are constantly searching for new extenders and additives to further reduce our carbon footprint and our impact on the environment as a whole.”
Govender emphasises that the company has established more aggressive recycling targets, encouraging all operations to increase their reuse and recycling of general waste and thereby reducing the amount of waste destined for landfill.
“At the ready-mix concrete sites, for instance, unused concrete that is returned from construction sites is taken to the nearest AfriSam quarry to be re-crushed and re-used at a later stage,” she says. “This recycled aggregate and crushed cementitious material can then – in consultation with the customer – be used to augment aggregate orders.”
She notes that this process reduces the amount of aggregate that needs to be mined and crushed, saving energy and reducing associated dust and carbon emissions. It also removes unsightly waste concrete from the surface environment and again reduces waste to landfill.
In terms of AfriSam’s 2021 roadmap, all company operations are steadily rehabilitating a portion of their disturbed footprint, part of an overall effort to reintroduce biodiversity to mined out areas and return these areas to a self-sustaining landform. The biodiversity management plan implemented a few years ago supports this effort.
“Environmental stewardship is today an integral part of any responsible business, representing the seriousness with which we view our role as custodians of our fragile planet on behalf of future generations,” says Govender.