The tipping point

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Makana Municipality is looking at the possibility of hiring a private contractor to manage the landfill, as frustration mounts at their inability to take control of it. Kathryn Cleary reports

“I’m in the hot seat,” said Kelello Makgoka, Makana’s Director of Community Services and Public Safety, on Wednesday morning. His fingers tapped against the cover of a copy of the Environmental Waste Management Act as he scrolled through Whatsapp messages filled with photographs of the burning landfill site from the past week.

“Something’s happening, but it’s not happening at the rate required,” he emphasised.

Single-use plastics line the fence line of the tip. Photo: Simon Pamphilon

Makhanda’s (Grahamstown’s) tip has been the topic of public debate and outrage for years, and not even the thick black smoke from the burning rubbish can hide the long-standing waste management issues faced by the municipality.

“For years the municipality was unable to manage that landfill site in line with the minimum requirements set out by the National Environmental Waste Management Act, [namely that]the landfill site must be fenced, there must be access control, daily compaction, [and]there must be a bulldozer on site [for]daily covering. That has not been happening for many years, hence the state of the landfill site right now.”

He explained that currently Makana was facing challenges with the fleet used to compact and cover the rubbish. “The bulldozer went out of commission because of mechanical problems. Second to that is [that]the tipper trucks are in and out of the workshop.

“We have an old, aged fleet to manage that landfill site; hence we have these problems of it not being properly managed.”

Makgoka said two security guards were stationed at the tip to monitor access control, but failed to be effective as a result of pickers and scavengers repeatedly cutting the fence. “We’ve requested SAPS to assist us because we don’t have the law enforcement as the municipality.”

Makgoka stated that Makana was in discussion with SAPS over suspected illegal activities happening at the landfill site.

“Pickers, if you don’t put 24 hour security and access control, you’ll have them. They’re cutting the fence and jumping over at night.”

Makgoka said extra lights had been installed for security, but it wasn’t enough.

“The second issue,” Makgoka said, “was money.”

“If you look at our budget we’ve put very little for repairs and maintenance for the landfill site. In the past we were under-billing for refuse collections, hence our new budget [we’ve] raised our tariffs so we can run services to the best of our ability.”

For the future, Makgoka said there was a proposal on the table to improve the security of the site, but because Makana lacked funding, the proposal was to be presented to the Department of Environmental Affairs. The proposal includes security, fencing and daily compacting.

Currently, Makgoka said that Makana had deployed two tipper trucks from Rhodes to assist with covering material. “We’re using cover material from the quarry because of the smoke. We can’t extinguish it, we’ve been trying.”

Makgoka showed Grocott’s Mail a photograph from 11am Tuesday of tipper trucks covering the smoke patches. Another photo from 8am Wednesday showed new patches of exposed flames and thick, billowing black smoke.

“This is what has been happening,” he said.

Makgoka said the Fire Department had been assisting, but due to the levels of methane gas and spontaneous combustion, they couldn’t douse it.

“In the previous weeks we’ve called in environmental engineers and geo-tech engineers from Ndlambe: they came to do a presentation to be able to assist us to manage the landfill.”

Makgoka said Ndlambe resorted to hiring a private contractor to manage their landfill site, and Makana was looking at doing the same. “Because right now it’s non-compliance all the way,” he emphasised. “Right now, we are faced with problems.”

“For health hazards, there is not much I can do where I’m seated, except to extinguish the fire.”

Grocott’s Mail asked Makgoka if Makana had ever considered issuing air quality warnings, discouraging residents from inhaling the toxic smoke.

“Our responsibility is to make sure there is no fire in the first place. It would be unfair for the municipality to say ‘be careful, we are burning’: we would be slapping people in the face.”

On Monday, the issue of smoke emissions from the landfill was escalated to the District office of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), as well as the Province. “We are waiting for the intervention,” said Makgoka.

“The immediate thing we need to do is extinguish the fires and cover the burning material. We don’t have any other options at this time.”

In April, the provincial Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) identified Makana as one of the province’s municipalities that desperately needed assistance with waste management. DEDEAT requested Makana to submit their Integrated Waste Management Plan (IWMP), outline the challenges of their landfill site and propose possible projects, in order to apply for funding.

Makgoka said that Makana is planning to establish a material recovery facility in the Eastern side of town, as well as refurbish the landfill site. “We also included that we need equipment.”

The documents were submitted 2 April and Makana is still waiting with crossed fingers, for a response.

“Fortunately for us, out of 57 municipalities we have been prioritised in the country, so we are waiting,” said Makgoka.

Makana’s IWMP was reviewed in 2017, and clearly outlines what is needed in terms of equipment and management resources. But with a slim budget, it cannot be implemented effectively.

“It’s only now that we are starting to move with regards to attending to the landfill site, the issue of recycling, issue of cleaning the town in general”, said Makgoka. He added Makana reviewed their IWMP in 2017, and opened the process for public comment. The IWMP was potentially Makana’s ticket out of the tip crisis.

“I’m hoping we get a speedy reaction from the Department to be able to assist us with funding.”

Grocott’s Mail will continue to follow this issue and report to the best of our ability as we confirm more information.

*Special thank you to Simon Pamphilon for allowing Grocott’s Mail to use his exceptional photographs in this article, as well as “Tiny plastic dancers”.

Tiny plastic dancers

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