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Circular economy can help municipalities manage waste sustainably
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 07/03/2023

​Municipalities, especially the smaller ones, should consider implementing a circular economic model of reusing, recycling, refurbishment and remanufacturing of waste products instead of just dumping them in landfills. This could help them to manage waste sustainably.

“By making a circular economy model part of their waste management practices, municipalities could enhance their resource efficiency, create job opportunities and new revenue streams, improve the livelihoods of local communities and reduce their impact on the environment," says Dr Timoteus Kadhila who recently obtained his doctorate in Public and Development Management at Stellenbosch University.

Kadhila, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Namibia, explored how the current waste management models of the municipalities of Langebaan in the Western Cape and Swakopmund in Namibia contribute to the realisation of sustainable waste management (environmental, economic and social sustainability) in the context of a circular economy. A circular economy entails reducing the consumption of raw materials, designing products in such a way that they can easily be taken apart after use and reused (eco-design), prolonging the lifespan of products through maintenance and repair, using recyclables in products and recovering raw materials from waste flow.

Kadhila interviewed senior-level employees at the two municipalities and at private waste management companies. He also analysed municipal policies, procedures, processes, organisational strategies, and reports and visited dumpsites to take a closer look at the municipalities' waste management practices.

According to Kadhila, the Langebaan and Swakopmund municipalities strive to manage waste in an integrated manner, promote waste avoidance and minimisation of waste, encourage separation of waste and facilitate the diversion of recyclable and re-usable waste from landfill.

“However, they have not yet made a circular economy model part of their waste management systems. They still follow a linear economy model, with landfilling as the predominant waste disposal method.

“For example, when plastic containers, toys, packaging material, etc. are not needed anymore, they are dumped in landfills".

Kadhila points out that most municipalities in South Africa and Namibia have made little progress toward implementing a circular economy in their waste management system.

He developed a framework that the two municipalities — or any other small municipality seeking to improve its waste management — could use to implement a circular economic model as part of their waste management practices. This framework emphasises key aspects such as cost, committees that can coordinate a circular economy, waste separation, green market centres, and educating and training of local communities about waste separation.

According to Kadhila, cost is one of the main barriers to the implementation of a circular economy.

“Therefore, an annual budget jointly funded by the government (40%), municipality (40%) and key stakeholders (20%) should be tabled to run the affairs of the framework successfully. The budget should allow for the appointment of coordinating committees that can ensure circular economic activities take place at waste generation sources.

“The committee should be responsible for drawing up the budget, determining the costs of implementing the circular economy and presenting it to the relevant stakeholders for approval."

Kadhila adds that the separation of waste is key.

“Waste that is readily available for reuse should be taken back into consumption. Waste that has the potential for reuse should be recycled, repaired and remanufactured and turned into suitable products such as chairs, cups, tables, etc.

“These products can be sold to the locals at green market centres at affordable prices. Only small amounts of residuals that may not be recycled, can be incinerated to produce electricity for the poor."

According to Kadhila, the framework could help to drive action for zero waste cities and towns because waste generation will be fully coordinated through a 100% waste separation target.

He says policymakers can use the proposed framework to revise existing regulatory instruments to promote transitioning to circular business models for waste management.

“The circular economy is gaining momentum as a means to drive environmental, economic, and social sustainability, although more investments and more effective governance are still in most cases needed to upscale promising innovations."