Why municipalities matter

The popular quote, no man is an island (attributed to English poet John Donne) is a truism which can take on many meanings – not least as a metaphor for how best SST can work with strategic partners to achieve our goal of Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa.

Given the many roles and responsibilities that must be coordinated to ensure that sustainable waste management is implemented effectively and efficiently – especially within the context of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR – recently mandated in South Africa) – we are definitely “better together”.

Our story, A Waste Pledge for Nelson Mandela Bay, highlights the importance of working with local authorities, called municipalities in South Africa. They have a unique and necessary role of providing linkages between consumers and waste management operators through the provision of accurate information about separation at source, recycling processes and waste management, and by supporting waste collection. 

Typically, local authorities are responsible for waste collection from households and businesses, including providing readily accessible collection infrastructure. One of the key challenges for local authorities is to ensure that all citizens are informed about the waste collection system and the fact that, in some cities, packaging and other recyclables will be collected separately. 

Local authorities are also the key point of contact for groups and institutions that can act as awareness multipliers for the rest of the community – think: nurseries, schools, universities, community clubs and other organisations.

Under the South African National Environmental Management: Waste Act 59 of 2008 (NEMWA), the primary responsibility for post-consumer and post-industrial waste remains with municipalities. As such, they are key players in enabling increased collection and recycling. 

The EPR regulations propose close cooperation between Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), waste management companies and municipalities. This makes sense as PROs’ members’ products end up in the municipal waste stream (those that are not yet collected for recycling or some other appropriate end-of-life, or EOL, solution), meaning cooperation and partnership between the two entities is critical to ensure adequate collection and EOL solutions for problematic and persistent products. 

Especially within the context of South Africa quickly running out of landfill space, strong partnerships with local authorities are required to decrease illegal dumping behaviour. And when considering the important role that the informal sector plays in the South African recycling economy and waste management (it is estimated that 80% of what South Africa recycles is collected and aggregated by informal collectors and operators), municipalities must work hard to engage with and understand the challenges experienced by informal players. 

This sector is critical to the success of any recycling or waste management interventions in South Africa. It is therefore essential that municipalities intentionally include this sector in the planning around their waste management, separation at source, and recycling activities from the outset.

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