With less than 9 weeks to go – industry professionals from across South Africa are anticipating the re-imagined African Construction & Totally Concrete Expo, taking place 23 – 25 August 2021 at the Ticketpro Dome, Johannesburg.
Johannesburg is threatening to sideline informal waste pickers. Why this is a bad idea
Like all cities in the world, Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital, has a waste management problem. In 2018/19, more than 290 000 tons of waste was illegally dumped in neighbourhoods across the city. Illegal dumping will likely increase, as the four legal landfills will be full in less than three years. Various efforts have been made over the years to try and manage the problems better. A contentious, and politically sensitive issue in all of these efforts has been the role of waste reclaimers, the informal actors who earn a living by salvaging and selling recyclables.
Like their counterparts across the country, reclaimers in Johannesburg play a crucial role in waste management and recycling. According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, reclaimers collect 80%-90% of all used packaging and paper that is recycled. They also save municipalities up to R748 million a year in landfill space. Without them, South Africa’s recycling economy would not exist, and Johannesburg’s landfills would have closed long ago.
Pikitup, the private company created by the City to provide municipal waste management services, only started promoting recycling just over a decade ago. Instead of partnering with the real recycling experts, reclaimers, Pikitup designs charity-style projects for them and gives the official recycling work to unemployed people with no experience in the sector and private companies.
In mid-2018, Pikitup started a separation at source pilot project that pays two private companies to collect recyclables separated from trash by residents in some suburbs.
But evidence from my three-year research project shows that Pikitup’s pilot has failed to collect significant amounts of recyclables. It has also been far from cost-effective. And it has profoundly negative consequences for reclaimers.
There are approximately 8000 reclaimers in Johannesburg. Some have been collecting recyclables for more than 30 years and there are families with several generations of reclaimers.
Working with 13 post-graduate students, my research project interviewed and surveyed reclaimers, residents and officials to see how they were affected by Pikitup’s recycling programmes between 2016 and 2019.
As the contracted companies started collecting the same materials that reclaimers depended on, reclaimers struggled to access recyclables, which decreased their incomes. It also led to increased harassment as reclaimers were accused by residents and security of “stealing” Pikitup’s bags.
The pilot also made life harder for reclaimers in other ways. They had to start sleeping in suburban parks to get to the materials before the private recycling trucks arrived, as otherwise there would be nothing to collect and their children would go hungry.
Poor track record
Pikitup’s approach to recycling has a poor track record.
In 2018/2019, the most recent year for which Pikitup has released complete data, Pikitup planned to collect 50 000 tonnesof recyclables. It then lowered the goal to 32 550 tonnes, but still missed this new target by about 6500 tonnes.
In the first 12 months of Pikitup’s separation at source pilot – which the levy is set to expand – an internal Pikitup presentation reported that Pikitup diverted only 27 277 tonnes of recyclables.
This is only a fraction of what reclaimers divert in a year. Data from a “resident-reclaimer” recycling pilot project led by the African Reclaimers Organisation in two Johannesburg suburbs shows that participating reclaimers collect an average of 128.18 kgs per day. If the City’s approximately 8000 reclaimers salvage similar amounts, they need a mere 27 days to divert as many tonnes of recyclables as Pikitup did in the first year of the City’s pilot.
While the companies in Pikitup’s pilot only collect bags of separated materials, reclaimers in the African Reclaimers Organisation pilot do the same, but also continue to salvage recyclables from rubbish bins. They do this because many residents still throw away recyclables. As a result, reclaimers provide a more effective service, because they ensure that recyclables that residents put in the trash don’t end up at landfills. And they do it for free.
Pikitup’s pilot has a number of inbuilt inefficiencies. For example, Pikitup pays the private contractors between approximately R20 – R25 per household per month to collect separated recyclables. The companies are paid even if a household does not put out a bag of recyclables or a reclaimer collects the bag. The reclaimer is not paid anything.
As Pikitup expands its pilot, the private companies will get the cleanest materials. More reclaimers will lose access to bins, and the recyclables in those bins will end up at landfills.
This is not just bad for reclaimers. It is bad for the environment as landfills will fill up faster and more virgin materials will be used to produce new products. While the companies use trucks to collect recyclables, reclaimers’ trolleys are a low carbon alternative.
A more sensible approach
It makes more sense to pay reclaimers to collect recyclables as is done in cities in Colombia, India, and Brazil. The African Reclaimers Organisation pilot has shown that reclaimers can provide an efficient, effective, low-carbon service that positively transforms relationships between residents and reclaimers.
Prior to the pandemic, reclaimers in this pilot were paid a service fee based on the kilograms of recyclables collected.
More than 2 400 residents have signed the African Reclaimers Organisation’s petition that calls on the municipality to stop the R50 levy and create a reclaimer-based recycling system through consultation with reclaimers.
It is time the city recognised reclaimers’ central role in Johannesburg’s recycling economy and work with reclaimers to build on what exists to create a recycling system appropriate for the South African context. Expanding African Reclaimers Organisation’s pilot would be a great way to start.
ArcelorMittal SA introduces renewable power into the energy mix
ArcelorMittal South Africa is inviting independent power producers (IPPs) to participate in a request for information (RFI) process for the supply and management of several photovoltaic (PV) power plants at its operations.
A subsidiary of ArcelorMittal Holdings which is a leader in the global steel industry, ArcelorMittal South Africa is the largest steel producing company on the African continent. With its head office in Vanderbijlpark, the company has six operational sites: Vanderbijlpark, Newcastle, Vereeniging, Pretoria, Thabazimbi and Saldanha, now in care and maintenance.
The Chief Executive Officer of ArcelorMittal South Africa, Kobus Verster, said that the company is committed to fighting global warming
“ArcelorMittal South Africa is committed to combatting global warming and climate change through the introduction of clean technologies at our operations and we intend to introduce renewable power into our energy mix in line with global best practices.”
Further, the company has repeatedly stated that continued, unaffordable increases on regulated costs, including energy tariffs, are having a seriously negative impact on its financial performance. To substantially reduce the blended price of electricity, improve its control of input costs and ensure a stable and secure supply of electricity for its operations, ArcelorMittal South Africa intends to enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with an IPP to build, own and operate the planned PV power plants.
The power plants at the Vanderbijl park operations will have supply capacities of 10MW and 100MW while the other sites will each have 10MW plants. The land for the power plants will be made available by ArcelorMittal South Africa to the successful IPP/IPPs.
As part of the PV power plant project, the successful IPP/IPPs will be responsible for:
• Conducting all pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility studies to confirm financial and technical viability
• Conducting the environmental impact assessment and other surveys required for the implementation of the project
• Applying for all governmental and legal permits and licences required for the implementation of the PV power plants
• Sourcing the required finance for the development and implementation of the project
• Conducting all engineering, procurement and construction work.
Interested IPPs are invited to express their interest in writing on company letterhead, indicating the power plant capacity they are interested in (100MW, 10MW or both). Supporting documents which should accompany the expression of interest include the completed questionnaire, company profile, financial results, BBBEE certification and company registration.ArcelorMittal South Africa will select the most suitable candidates who will receive a request for quotation (RFQ) together with the detailed technical scope of work.
All submissions to reach ArcelorMittal South Africa by 14:00 on28 August 2020.
Solving Africa’s water problems has become critical for the future of the continent. Xylem Africa has created new smart solutions that will benefit Africa. The Engineering Manager, Vinesan Govender, explained that Africa is not simply a dry continent.
“Africa is not a very water-rich continent. We have pockets of water in parts of Africa, and the other parts of Africa really struggle with regards to two large bodies of water. In some areas, there is plenty of water, but you need to cover large distances to reach communities. In other areas, water is very scarce, and you need special interventions to reach it at all.”
African challenges need African solutions
Govender further explained that these issues apply to the macro and micro scales. He used the Ugandan capital of Kampala as an example. He explained that while cities like Kampala have access to water infrastructure, it is not the case for those living in rural areas.
“The people living in Uganda’s capital Kampala has access to water infrastructure. But what happens when you go out into the rural areas and the big farmlands, where people are very sparsely situated? Pipes rarely get that far, as is evident from the high number of boreholes on the continent. This, in itself, creates challenges in Africa that need African solutions.”
The situation for water access on the continent demands serious attention. More than 40% – 783 million people – in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to an improved source of drinking water. What solutions will help change this picture?
The need for low-cost and decentralised water solutions
Govender explained that decentralised, low-maintenance infrastructure is a keystone for Africa’s water future. He added that there is no longer a need for large and centralised infrastructure.
“Solar power is an example of how grids are being decentralised. Water can operate in the same way, especially when managing wastewater. It has become cost-effective to have more and smaller sites to manage water, and it’s much more efficient because you can calibrate that infrastructure to reflect the needs of the surrounding community. This improves performance and the longevity of the equipment.”
The benefits of smart water technologies
Africa can benefit from quantum leaps in water technologies which deliver much more efficiency, control and cost-management. Examples can include smart technologies that help spot leaks and inform planning. There are also vastly-improved water infrastructure designs and management philosophies.
These can address the many different scenarios found across Africa, each requiring a blend of international expertise and local context. Govender claimed that these solutions could effective anywhere on the continent. He added that in Gauteng borehole water can contain heavy metals due to mining activity
“The water management in Africa is extremely poor, and in most cases, non-existent. We are not looking after our aquifers, which have become contaminated.”
He added that in Gauteng borehole water can contain heavy metals due to mining activity and could be added to water recycling.
“We can manage those aquifers responsibly and even make them part of water recycling. The same counts for other water resources, such as the great lakes. These are renewable resources, but they are not infinite without the right water management culture.”
The need for chemical-free water solutions
Chemical-free disinfection of water is another pivotal solution that can disrupt water in Africa. Govender explained that technologies such as UV and ozone are not yet as cost-effective at large scales as chlorine. However, it is a very different case for smaller applications, such as community water supplies, water in tanks or water used for cleaning. He added that an enormous amount of chemicals enter Africa’s water ecosystems. He further explained that by applying chemical-free disinfection at strategic points can massively improve quality of life, and fight infections such as cholera and E. coli, without harming the same environment many subsist on.
The water evolution can happen through new ways of thinking, with technology to support them.
“It is a pyramid effect, and smart technology sits at the very top of the pyramid. If you do not have the base of the pyramid in place, which is mindset, education and infrastructure, smart technology is not going to add any value.”