As we edge towards a circular economy, the waste we’re generating should be minimal.

Words Linus Naik & Melissa van Rensburg Images Supplied

Making space for Waste

“Making Space for Waste” can be tied to the evolving landscape of waste management in Africa. When looking at Africa’s infrastructure journey, the historical roots reveal a story of rapid development without due consideration for waste management.

Following the scramble for Africa, only Liberia and Ethiopia had retained their independence by the advent of WWI. For the first half of the 20th century, there was rapid development and expansion of capital cities, driven primarily by the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of human capital.
A similar analogy can be drawn between infrastructure and waste, where there was major development, without consideration for what would happen to the waste generated. Prior to 1980, in Africa at least, the prevailing business model followed the linear economy principles: take, make, waste – and this was reflected in the way buildings were designed. As an example, there are shopping centres in major central business districts (CBDs) with a gross leasable area of well over 130 000m2, but only 10m2 set aside for waste management. The area allocated to waste was essentially a storage area for bins for disposal.

Most major metropolitan areas will reach the end of their landfill space within the next 10 years.

With increased environmental awareness after peak oil (1970s), recycling became a novelty and was only really employed when it made financial sense. By that time, however, most of these larger CBDs where the shopping centres existed had already been built, so there was no space for the management and sorting of waste. As noted, all the waste was simply put into bins for removal by the municipality and taken to landfill.

From a linear to circular economy

Waste management in SA

Here in South Africa, the waste management policy was called “The minimum requirements for safe disposal of waste to landfill”, and everything was tailored to support the safe disposal of waste to landfill. So, while there may have been a space for waste, there was no actual space for waste management. As such, even buildings built as recently as the early 2000s did not make adequate space for waste management, only waste removal. Some recent developments in recently gentrified Gauteng and the Northern Cape have been built with no access for waste removal vehicles, because waste was clearly an afterthought.

Currently, however, we are making more space for waste management. The Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) is presently reviewing the Green Star New Build V2 tool – under the responsible construction and responsible waste management credits – to ensure that enough space is being dedicated for waste. The tool covers best-practice guidelines used to calculate waste generation rates and justify access arrangements. Essentially, buildings will need to be consciously designed with responsible waste handling, which means sufficient space for sorting and storage of various general waste grades and responsible handling of any hazardous waste.

Current best practice will have collected waste (ideally with some degree of source separation) making its way to the waste area. Recyclables are sorted into final grades and sold for a rebate and the non-recyclable waste is consolidated for disposal. Don’t Waste has in-house expertise to assist with the design and planning of bespoke waste handling and sorting areas, and specialises in best practice on-site waste management.

That said, the recycling of waste is only halfway up the waste hierarchy as the preferred treatment option. Furthermore, if there is a portion of waste that is being recycled, it means that there is still a portion being disposed of, which is not ideal.

This is exacerbated by the fact that most major metropolitan areas will reach the end of their landfill space within the next 10 years. The way to solve this is to minimise the amount of waste by strategically understanding what steps will have the best impact on the diversion rate and the environment.

An example of a waste area design

GBCSA guideline adjustments

Employing a Net Zero approach – as outlined in the GBCSA’s Net Zero Technical Manual referencing Net Zero Waste – now allows for a more nuanced consideration of diversion rates and waste offsets. The recent adjustment in the diversion rate, from 100% to a practical 90%, aligns more accurately with achievable targets. Consequently, achieving Net Zero Waste certifications for operational waste entails maintaining a 90% diversion from landfill consistently over a 12-month period.

The updated guidelines also specify a prerequisite for projects aspiring to achieve Net Zero Waste certifications, mandating that a project must first exhibit a 70% diversion from landfill with a validated diversion rate at the site before introducing waste offsets. Don’t Waste aligns to these guidelines, prioritising on-site efficiency as per the recommended approach for reaching Net Zero or Net Positive Waste status. This involves an initial focus on on-site waste reduction and reuse, followed by on-site recovery through sorting and separation and off-site sorting and separation – and only after these steps, considering offsets (see the Net Zero pathways below).

towards a circular economy

As we transition to a circular economy, the amount of waste generated should be minimal. Reuse, repurposing and refurbishing will all happen to the majority of waste before it actually reaches the waste area and at that time, we will probably, and hopefully, need to make less space for waste. So, while the focus right now is to make sure that there is enough space for waste, we look forward to a time when we actually won’t need any.

Speaking of goals, the United Nations’ Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have officially reached their halftime mark, and the current status indicates that only 15% of the targets are on track. It’s a critical moment in the match, but the good news is that, like any game, it can be turned around in the second half. A pivotal strategy in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda lies in the shift towards a circular economy and minimising waste within the built environment.

To achieve the SDGs and secure a better future for both people and the planet, we believe partnerships and collaboration are key. Here at Don’t Waste, we have a team of Net Zero Accredited Professionals ready to support you on your Net Zero Waste Journey. So, let’s regroup, recommit, and create space for waste as we dive into the second half.

Net Zero pathways
GBCSA Net Zero/Net Positive Certification Scheme Technical Manual v1.0

Head of ESG & Sustainable Business at Don’t Waste Group, a pioneering waste minimisation company, Linus Naik is an environmentalist at heart and in practice. He holds a doctorate in Chemical Engineering, which focused on technology deployment for sustainable urban development through waste to energy solutions.
Linus continually volunteers his service on the boards of non-profit organisations that align with environmental conservation. He is also a Net Zero Accredited Professional, specialising in Net Zero/Positive Waste Certifications.

A dedicated environmental advocate on a mission to drive positive change, Don’t Waste Group’s Sustainability Communications Manager Melissa van Rensburg channels her passion into protecting the environment by effectively communicating environmental and sustainability issues. She has completed a master’s degree in environmental science and has a strong academic foundation in environmental management, geography and sustainability.
Melissa’s expertise extends to being a Net Zero Accredited Professional, specialising in Net Zero/Positive Waste certifications.