Victory for environmental justice movement: Positive precedent against incineration of hazardous waste!

23 November 2005 - Civil society organisations have welcomed the decision by the North West Province to deny Holcim Cement permission to burn hazardous waste in their cement kiln in Dudfield, outside Lichtenberg (Ditsobotla Local Municipality District) in the North West Province. The decision is an important precedent.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg[1], with legal representation from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) [2] office in Pretoria, submitted comment during the Environmental Impact Assessment and raised various concerns about the project. These concerns were considered favourable by government and the reasons for rejecting the Environmental Impact Report are as follows:

Louise du Plessis, of the LRC who acted on behalf of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg indicates that it is encouraging to see that the provincial department considered the matter so carefully and had the good judgement to implement the precautionary principle.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg spokesperson on this issue, Richard Worthington, indicates that, “Holcim's project is a classic case of opportunism dressed up as altruism: turning a blind eye to toxic emissions such as organochlorines (dioxins and furans), fudging the details of proposed "fuels" and claiming environmental benefits. Such projects seek to turn the polluter pays principle on its head - instead of industries accepting the costs of redesigning processes or products to avoid hazardous wastes, they now market their wastes as a commodity, which is presented as a "clean fuel" on the basis of avoiding one or more of the pollutants associated with coal (traditionally the dirtiest fuel). It is encouraging that such attempted slight-of-hand has been rejected by authorities.”

Llewellyn Leonard, groundWork’s [4] Waste Coordinator, visited the local municipality in Lichtenberg in 2004, and in an address to the Mayor Mr. J. Bogatsu and his officials presented the health and environmental concerns of burning hazardous waste in cement kilns. This was followed up with a similar meeting with the National Union of Mineworkers who organise in the cement industry nationally. “It is only through careful and systematic building of our knowledge base on the dangers of hazardous waste incineration, that these proposals will be halted”, stressed Leonard.

Various civil society organisations, including groundWork, Earthlife Africa, Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and Injiya ya Uri have consistently addressed their concerns on the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, calling on the Ministry to develop clear policy guidelines through a consultative process to determine how hazardous waste is treated in South Africa. These organisations have worked together to challenge various proposals on the burning of hazardous waste [5].

Bashiru Abdul spokesperson for Agenda, an environmental justice NGO based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, who is presently in South Africa, stated that they were delighted at the victory news since this precedent set in South Africa would not allow for cement companies to set up similar processes in other African countries.

There has been an international focus on these proposed developments by the Global Anti Incineration Alliance [6] Manny Colonzo, of Global Anti Incineration Alliance, welcomed the decision by government, and maintains that “the South African government’s decision puts them in a leadership position in ensuring that hazardous waste is not treated inappropriately.”

See Record of decision.

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Footnotes:

[1] Earthlife Africa (ELA) is a membership driven organization of environmental and social justice activists, founded to mobilize civil society around environmental issues in relation to people. ELA Johannesburg (Jhb) branch was established in August 1988 as the first branch of the organization, which grew to many branches in the early nineties and is currently concentrated in three branches in South Africa and one in Namibia (www.earthlife.org.za)

[2] The Legal Resources Centre is an independent, client-based, non-profit public interest law centre which uses law as an instrument of justice. It works for the development of a fully democratic society based on the principle of substantive equality, by providing legal services for the vulnerable and marginalised, including the poor, homeless, and landless people and communities of South Africa who suffer discrimination by reason of race, class, gender, disability or by reason of social, economic, and historical circumstances. (www.lrc.org.za)

[3] Some of the core issues questioned by the LRC on the process:

[4] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working focusing on air pollution, waste and corporate abuse and works with community organisations living adjacent to petro-chemical facilities in south Durban, Sasolburg, Secunda and Cape Town. (www.groundwork.org.za)

[5]

Press release dated 7 September 2005.

Press release dated 6 May 2005.

Press release dated 08 April 2002.

Press release dated 22 May 2001.

[6] GAIA is an expanding international alliance of individuals, non-governmental organization, community-based organizations, academics and others working to end the incineration of all forms of waste and to promote sustainable waste prevention and discard management practices. Since GAIA members are committed both to ending incineration and to promoting alternative safe, economical and just discard management systems, the name GAIA represents both a Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance and a Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. (www.no-harm.org)