The so-called ‘third-world’ has the largest growing population on Earth proportionately by far. This is an accepted fact at UN level. It continues to expand exponentially too. Emerging economies contribute significantly to global warming issues as they linger in the poverty zone, through their inability to monitor and manage opportunities and developments.
This article looks at how one emerging economy is tackling and endeavouring to cope with waste recovery. Before her death last year, former South African environment minister Edna Molewa compared the circular economy as a “trillion-dollar opportunity”.
Reviewing Waste Recovery in Sunny South Africa
Amid new warnings that global extraction levels are unsustainable, resource experts in South Africa have concerns over the slow pace of domestic waste recovery. This is in light of plans to establish a more inclusive ‘circular economy’. More about this later.
The UN’s International Resource Panel notes that while the population has doubled over the last half-century, the rate of resource extraction has tripled. This, all in the name of feeding the ‘first-worlds’ insatiable need for minerals to roll out developments aimed at bolstering their own economies.
2019 Global Resources Outlook
Compiled by a panel of 39 science experts, the report predicts the annual resource extraction could rise 190-billion tons over the next four decades. That would be more than double the current output of 92-billion tons.
Arresting such rapid expansion requires concerted action from ore and mineral producing countries, mostly emerging, third-world economies. The need to decouple resource depletion and environmental damage from economic growth and human development exists, and needs addressing.
Numbing and alarming projections that South Africa recycles less than 10% of the waste it generates should concern all stakeholders, not least the local populous. This startling revelation is courtesy of the ‘Waste for Development’ research group at SA’s Council for Industrial Research.
Manager of the department of science and technology’s 10-year Waster Roadmap Implementation Unit, Prof Linda Godfrey volunteered this:
“More than 90% of resources lost to the SA economy through landfilling equates to about R17-billion South African rand a year. Moreover, recycling targets of 100% are unlikely to be achieved” according to Godfrey.
Ways to Improve Waste Trends
Prof Godfrey continues, “South Africa can do much better”. The most recent data (2011 surveys) suggests that some of the highest recovery rates from different waste streams in SA include metals most impressively. Metal recovery rates reflect 80%, followed by paper (57%), waste oils (44%) and glass (32%).
Worryingly, only 11% of plastic is recycled, this according to Plastics SA. Godfrey confirmed that SA’s paper and packaging waste recovery rates are among the best in the world, more by accident than design. Poverty and unemployment in SA drives waste recovery in the country, unleashing a large contingent of desperate people wishing to drive a massive informal waste-sorting sector.
Circular Economy vs Vicious Circle
Before her death last year, former environment minister Edna Molewa compared the circular economy as a “trillion-dollar opportunity”, with huge potential for innovation, job creation and economic growth.
The concept of a circular economy differs from the traditional linear economy, in which virgin resources are processed and then dumped as waste. The aim is to ‘close the loop’ and reduce waste and inefficiency. The initial focus is on tyres, paper and packaging, lighting, and electrical and electronic wastes. With the inauguration of a new South African government, it will be interesting to see where this important issue features in priorities.