Sunday, 2 March 2008

Ban the Burn! Government Ignoring Advice

If South Africa goes ahead with plans to burn waste, as proposed by the Waste Management Bill, it will cost us R140-billion over the next 25 years. This is according to the Danish and Norwegian technical consultants hired by the Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT). This equates to the entire South African health budget, at current estimates, for more

But despite this advice the DEAT wants to press ahead with its plans to allow for incineration through the National Environmental Management: Waste Management Bill (the Bill). And tomorrow (Monday) when the Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism meets to consider the Bill, DEAT will attempt to convince committee members to accept incineration of waste in the Bill.

groundWork has been working with community people [1] and NGOs country wide to develop a comprehensive response to the Bill. We call on the Portfolio Committee to instruct the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism at their joint meeting

South Africa has a sad legacy with regard to the incineration of waste. In the mid 1980’s Thor Chemicals, [2] after being pressurised by the British government for excessive mercury emissions at their plant in Margate in the UK, closed the plant and shipped the plant to Cato Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal where they imported mercurial hazardous waste and incinerated it at the plant (see attached photo of Thor Chemicals incinerator as of March 2008]. The result of this was three worker deaths and more than 40 worker injuries all due to exposure of mercury. The workers filed a law suit in London, as Thor Chemicals is a British Company, and the case was successfully settled out of court. However today, 20 years later the waste has not been removed from the premises of Thor Chemicals where

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s Peacock Bay Environmental Services attempted establish hazardous waste incinerators in South Africa. They were unsuccessful, because of public

Since 2004, the cement industry has been attempting to get permission from various provincial government departments to incinerate waste in their cement kilns. groundWork, together with other NGOs and community organisations have opposed these developments, but government continues to entertain these proposals. They have even funded a trip by the Deputy Minister to Europe to view such proposals. The cement industry is one of the worst regulated industries in South Africa. Despite the fact that emissions from the cement industry include metals such as mercury, volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates, government only requires the cement industry to monitor for particulates. They can therefore legally release unlimited amounts of the

The medical waste incineration industry is also facing a huge challenge. There have been regular scandals, the most recent being Aidsafe [4] and Waste Man, in Benoni and Klerksdorp respectively, where tons of waste have been illegally stockpiled because of poorly operated incinerators. groundWork has taken samples of soil and ash adjacent to the now closed Compass Waste operated incinerator in Ixopo, and have found both contaminated with dioxins, which is created when waste is burnt [5]. Another

Alternatives to incineration are already being used successfully. In KwaZulu-Natal all commercial medical waste incinerators have been closed. Companies in KwaZulu-Natal are using alternative non-burn technologies successfully to treat medical waste.

groundWork will be at the Portfolio Committee meeting tomorrow to take forward the message that: “the evidence of destruction and pollution caused by incineration is very visible, and so is the evidence for alternative practice. To ignore this, and allow for incineration will be an injustice and an affront to Section 24 of our Constitution which guarantees us an ‘environment that is not harmful to our health and well-being’. We implore the Portfolio Committee to protect us from incineration.”

groundWork has also approached the public protector to intervene ’s push towards incineration. [6]


For more information:
Bobby Peek, Director, groundWork, 082 464 1383


[1] groundWork facilitated community participation from throughout South Africa at the Portfolio Committee hearings on the Bill on 21 November 2007. There was a unanimous call by the community and NGO’s who gave testimony that incineration should be proscribed. The Portfolio Committee was concerned by the testimony of the community people and indicated that there would be community visits to community areas before the Bill is considered and would meet with the Portfolio Committee. You can download a copy of the Waste Management Bill Briefing here.

[2] See for more information.

[3] See press release here for more information

[4] See

[5] Dioxin is one of the 12 most deadly chemicals in the world. The United Nations has developed the Stockholm Convention that seeks to eliminate the anthropogenic creation of dioxins. In the US in the 1980’s and 90’s, medical waste incinerators were the largest source of dioxins and the second largest source of mercury, emissions into the atmosphere (Gibbs, 1995). Since then most of the US medical waste is treated using alternative technologies. For more information on dioxins visit:,M1

[6] Dowload press release here.