The Madadeni Road (P483) leading to Newcastle was forced to shut down on Monday, 14 August 2023, due to a massive cloud of smoke billowing from a fire that erupted at the landfill (dumpsite) premises.
As firefighting crews battled to quell the flames, revelations of deep seated issues at Newcastle’s dumpsite and various others across the province emerged.
This incident comes in the wake of AfriForum’s comprehensive audit of 161 landfills across the country this year, conducted as part of their ambitious national initiative aimed at assessing the state of landfills in South Africa.
According to the civil rights organisation, only one out of the ten landfill sites evaluated in KwaZulu-Natal met the stringent national standards. These standards are mandated by relevant legislation and regulations, including the National Environmental Management Act: Waste 59 of 2008, which lays down specific requirements for landfills.
The findings of AfriForum’s assessment reveal a grim picture of the state of various landfill sites in the region:
- Newcastle: The site received a paltry 30% on AfriForum’s audit, highlighting that while the site has hit its capacity, it continues to operate.
- Dundee (Glencoe): Scoring a modest 74% in the audit, the Dundee landfill fared relatively better.
- Utrecht: This site earned a meagre score of 36%, indicating substantial shortcomings.
- Pongola: AfriForum assigned a score of 70% to the Pongola landfill.
Eugene van Aswegen, AfriForum’s Provincial Coordinator for KwaZulu-Natal, emphasised the grave condition of most landfills in the region. He attributed this predicament to severe mismanagement stemming from budgetary constraints.
Van Aswegen noted, “The most common problem that AfriForum branches in KwaZulu-Natal noticed during this audit is that the officials responsible for service delivery do not see the maintenance of landfills as a necessity. This is a major concern as the municipal officials are obliged to ensure that landfills are a safe environment in terms of our constitution, and they are not being held accountable.”
The organisation further spotlighted that smaller municipalities bear the brunt of widespread mismanagement. This unsettling situation is in part due to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) being subject to the control of three distinct levels of government.
AfriForum noted, “The national department only has the power to establish laws, policies, norms, and standards at the national level, but they have no power at the provincial or municipal level. The province reports to the provincial MEC, not to the minister. Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) and the DFFE do not communicate with each other and therefore bring another challenge,” said AfriForum in a statement.
To read AfriForum’s full report, click here.
Furthermore, when these sites are mismanaged, they can unleash a cascade of negative consequences that affect the environment, public health, and economies.
The multifaceted impacts of mismanaged landfill sites, highlight the need for proper waste management practices to ensure a sustainable future.
Here are some of the negative impacts mismanaged sites can have on their surroundings:
Mismanaged landfills become sources of environmental pollution, releasing hazardous chemicals and pollutants into the air, soil, and water. As waste decomposes, it emits gases like methane and volatile organic compounds, contributing to air pollution and climate change. These emissions have far reaching consequences for the health of our planet and its ecosystems.
One of the most concerning outcomes of mismanaged landfills is water contamination. Pollutants from the waste can leach into groundwater and nearby surface water bodies, compromising drinking water sources and harming aquatic ecosystems. The result is long term damage to both human health and the environment.
Improperly managed landfills can degrade soil quality through leachate seepage and pollution, impacting agricultural productivity and vegetation growth. The contamination of soil can have dire consequences for plants, animals, and the overall ecosystem, perpetuating a cycle of degradation.
Public Health Risks
The public health risks associated with mismanaged landfill sites are significant. These sites can attract pests like rodents and insects, which can spread diseases to nearby communities. The release of noxious odours and harmful gases further threatens the health of those living in the vicinity of the landfill, creating a serious public health concern.
The visual and olfactory impact of mismanaged landfills cannot be underestimated. Unsightly and emitting unpleasant odours, these sites diminish the aesthetic quality of the surrounding area, leading to decreased property values and an overall decline in community appeal.
Increased Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Landfills that are not properly managed contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is released as waste decomposes. The unchecked emissions from landfills further accelerate the urgency of addressing waste management practices.
As the fire at the Newcastle landfill prompts concerns about the immediate and long term effects of landfill mismanagement, local authorities are urged to take heed of AfriForum’s findings and address the pressing issues surrounding waste disposal and environmental safety.
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