According to the National Environmental Management Waste Act of 2008, plastic containers in which agricultural chemicals are supplied ought to be tripled-rinsed, dried and securely stored on the farm for collection by accredited agencies (see “Chemicals in agriculture” page). They should not be burnt, buried or given over for other uses. Photo used courtesy of Helen Gordon, WWF SA.
Waste is any material lacking direct value to the producer, and so must be disposed of. All farming operations create waste products that need to be managed. Waste on the farm includes agro-chemicals (pesticides etc), animal carcasses, grey water (e.g. from cleaning the dairy equipment), black water (sewerage), manure and landfill.
Opportunities exist in recycling glass, cans, paper, cardboard, plastic and a growing number of items. For example, Treetops Farm near Eston, a previous winner of the Nedbank Sustainable Farm Award, collects glass, metal and oil for recycling. The money funds various farm community projects and infrastructure, and so a sense of ownership and reward is created through waste management. Read more about the farming operation in “Farmers, bankers, conservationists (part 3)” blog.
Farmer points of interest
The poor management of pesticide application leads to severe working environment problems. The regulation on pesticides is in general good, but suffers from an administrative division between several governing departments and legal acts. The enforcement is largely based on self-regulation: how many farmers comply with the requirements? Chemical spraying requires the chemicals to be loaded into the spraying machinery. Whether spraying by air or on land the loading of chemicals into the machinery can lead to chemical spills. These are typically not well controlled and the spills result in a build-up of toxic chemicals over time. Prevention is better than control, and as far as possible, spills should be prevented. However, if spills do occur these need to be well controlled. The collected spilled chemical could then still be used if kept uncontaminated in the contained area. Alternatively, the chemical can be properly treated and disposed.
Irrigation run-off can carry crop protection chemicals to surface/ground water, even if it takes many years for this to happen. In Denmark for example, fifty years after the use of pesticides began traces of them appeared in groundwater.
Other chemicals used on farms that have environmental effects include use of paints, turpentine, creosote, etc. which are often used in significant amounts for maintenance on farm property. The waste materials and containers are often not disposed in the correct manner leading to health and environmental effects of solvents, heavy metals and other problematic chemicals.
The management of waste chemical packaging is an important environmental, health and safety issue. Of particular concern are the containers from pesticide/herbicide chemicals. Once empty they need to be carefully managed. Prior to disposal, they must be thoroughly cleaned out. The rinsewater then requires treatment. Holes are then punched in the containers and they are flattened and disposed of. They are often not disposed of in correctly controlled waste sites. If not holed and flattened, the empty containers are in demand and may be stolen (e.g. for use as water containers in rural areas). There is a high probability of a health hazard for end users in this case.
Typically farmers are known to burn these empty plastic chemical containers as well as empty plastic fertiliser bags in open fire on farms. This low temperature burning results in emissions of dioxins which are hazardous to health and the environment. Air emissions (dioxins) from burning plastics (at temperatures <400°C) are carcinogenic and are therefore potentially harmful to those who inhale the fumes.
Vehicle use and maintenance
The maintenance of farm tractors and trucks for transport results in the generation of used oil and oil filters amongst other wastes. Thousands of litres of used oil and numerous oil filters could be generated on a farm each year. Typically these wastes are poorly managed as they are most often burnt on site, and the metal of the oil filters is buried. The carbon and emissions from burning dirty oil and heavy metal wastes from filters are of environmental concern.
If not burnt, waste oil is often used as wood treatment for fence posts on farms. Although this is common practice, according to hazardous waste management practices, it is discouraged and correct treatment and disposal of waste oil is recommended.
Monoculture can affect the local ecosystem and it is therefore wise that the method of rotation crops is used. If the same crop is grown on a piece of land year after year after year, the disease organisms that attack that crop will build up in the area until they become uncontrollable. Nature abhors monoculture: inspection of natural plant and animal environments will reveal a great variety of species. If one species becomes too predominant, some event, pest or disease is likely to develop to strike it down. Man has managed to defy this law, to date, by the application of stronger and stronger chemical controls, but the pests (particularly the fast-evolving viruses) adapt very quickly to withstand each new chemical and to date the chemist has managed to keep only a short jump ahead of the disease.
The application of fertilisers requires good knowledge of soil, as adding too much can lead to destruction of the quality of the soil. Long-term use of fertilisers in one area also can have negative effects and it is important to use more natural methods of restoring soil quality.
Soil erosion is also an environmental effect associated with poor agricultural methods.
Some herbicides and pesticides remain in the upper soil layer and the dust generated during cultivation readily transports these to vulnerable and edible crops. Presence of dust on plants (near roads, etc.) encourages a build up of scale and red spider mites in cotton, citrus and other crops.
Solid waste generation
The wastes of concern that are generated on the farm are the hazardous wastes. These are not in very large quantities, but their effect on the environment demands improved management of these. Plastic and PVC wastes are not necessarily hazardous unless burnt at low temperature. Fluorescent lighting tubes contain mercury and are considered hazardous wastes. Used batteries are another typical solid hazardous waste generated on farms (particularly from workers houses) and may be in large quantities. All of these require careful environmental management.
General (low-/non-hazardous) solid waste generated by homestead as well as from workers’ housing and compounds, is also an important environmental management issue, mainly because of the volumes required for disposal. In many rural areas where farms are located, municipal dumps are located too far away for proper disposal of solid waste to be economically feasible. The burning of domestic waste and informal ‘landfilling’ (dumping) is very common. However, this has potential environmental problems that need to be addressed. Burning of plastics and polystyrene must be avoided, and location of sites where wastes are buried must be carefully chosen away from environmentally sensitive areas. Hazardous wastes should not be burnt or buried informally. A large portion of typical solid waste streams can be minimised through the use of reduction, reuse and recycling options.
Segregation of waste streams at source is essential to allow for improved waste management.
Source: Claire Janisch
Farmers can control and run their own mini-municipalities by separating plastic, paper, cans and glass, utilising a small mobile machine to bale refuse into manageable sizes. There are buyers for industrial refuse.
National strategy and government contact
The waste sector, valued at about R25.2 billion 50 billion per annum (PMG, 2022), has both a social and an economic value. Waste management is central to the improvement of the standard of living and has the potential to eradicate poverty through job creation opportunities which exist in waste collection, recycling and other forms of waste management in general.
- Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) https://www.dffe.gov.za
The National Environment Management: Waste Act 2008 (Act 59 of 2008), NEMWA, and its related Amendment Act (Act 26 of 2014), NEMLAA, is South Africa’s promulgated legislation relating to the storage, reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment and disposal of hazardous and general waste.
Government initiatives like Working on Waste (WoW) sub-programme under the auspices of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) and Gauteng Youth Jobs in Waste Programme create jobs.
For contact details and information about relevant legislation and programmes, find the “Chemicals and Waste Management” option under “Branches” at www.dffe.gov.za.
- Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (Redisa) https://redisa.org.za
- Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) www.dws.gov.za
Find the different Waste Management Guidelines and Waste Management Policies documents under the “Document Library” menu option on the website.
- Department of Public Works and Infrastructure www.publicworks.gov.za
Several projects dealing with waste management have been run as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). These include the Food for Waste Programme, Youth and Waste, and the Youth Jobs in Waste Programme.
- Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) www.cogta.gov.za
- Follow the minutes of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) report back “Solid waste management in provinces; Nairobi Convention Protocol; with Deputy Minister” (2023, June 6) on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website page, https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/37166
- Parliamentary Monitoring Group. 2022, February 15. Overview by Minister on Waste Streams (General & Hazardous); SALGA on local government support programme for waste sector. Available at https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/34318/
Visit www.allwastesolutions.co.za, “a modern industry guide”.
- ROSE Foundation Recycling Oil Saves the Environment (ROSE) One area of pollution in agriculture (and elsewhere) is used lubricant oil. Farmers can gather and store their used oil for responsible collection. Find provincial contacts on the website (see the NORA-SA option).
- Earthworms can be used in a variety of waste management fields. They process any form of organic waste – from food waste (homes and restaurants) to garden wastes, to animal manures and wastes, to abattoir wastes. Refer to the “Earthworms and vermicompost” page for role players.
Training and research
- Two new chairs, launched under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), apply. The University of KwaZulu-Natal hosts the Research Chair in Waste and Climate, Prof Cristina Trois, while the University of the Western Cape hosts the Research Chair in Waste and Society to Prof Catherina Schenck. The special focus on waste and climate and waste and society are two key elements of South Africa’s Waste Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap.
- Find documents and papers like “Sustainable reuse of wineries waste” and “Community-led total sanitation – Lessons and recommendations” on the Water Research Commission website, www.wrc.org.za.
Websites and publications
Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.
- The Best practice reference manual for wool sheep farming in South Africa, brought out by the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) includes notes on waste management along with the other information. Find the document on www.nwga.co.za or contact 041 365 5030.
- Download the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) “Guidance on South African Legislation” document, available on its website, www.siza.co.za. Disposal of General Waste to Land and Wastewater management are two of the chapters.
- SUSFARMS, the Sustainable Sugarcane Farm Management System, deals with waste management. Read about SASRI’s work at https://sasri.org.za.
- Find the alternative waste treatment guide on the Green Agri website at www.greenagri.org.za/tips-and-tools/tools/alternative-waste-treatment-guide/
- Camp, W.G. & Heath-Camp, B. 2016. Managing Our Natural Resources. 6th Edition. Boston, MA: CENGAGE Learning.
- Read our blogs “SAB turns brewery waste into spinach for the sake of local communitie”, “Biogas – the sustainable waste to fuel South Africa” and “Used oil on South African farms can pollute the environment” at https://agribook.co.za/blog.
- Burger S. 2021, February 2. “Growth in use of bioplastics must be part of holistic policy approach to sustainability, says TIPS”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/growth-in-use-of-bioplastics-must-be-part-of-holistic-policy-approach-to-sustainability-says-tips-2021-02-02/rep_id:4136
- Bulbulia T. 2020, June 26. “South Africa’s recycling insufficient to meet its waste management goals”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/south-africas-recycling-insufficient-to-meet-its-waste-management-goals-2020-06-25
- Fresh Plaza. 2020, February 5. “South African Plastics Pact – A first in Africa”. Available at www.freshplaza.com/article/9187300/south-african-plastics-pact-a-first-in-africa
- African News Agency. 2019, June 5. “Waste is the new gold, says Gauteng MEC Ramokgopa”. Polity. Available at www.polity.org.za/article/waste-is-the-new-gold-says-gauteng-mec-ramokgopa-2019-06-05
- Arnoldi M. 2018, October 17. “Informal waste pickers should be integrated into formal waste management sector, suggests analyst”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/informal-waste-pickers-should-be-integrated-into-formal-waste-management-sector-suggests-analyst-2018-10-17
- Zama S. 2018, June 20. “Springs business finds innovative way to reuse used motor oil”. Available at https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/1959003/springs-business-finds-innovative-way-to-reuse-used-motor-oil/
- Schreuder N. 2018, June 12. “Compulsory recycling will turn residents, waste pickers into each other’s sidekicks”. The Citizen. Available at https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/1951605/compulsory-recycling-will-turn-residents-waste-pickers-into-each-others-sidekicks/
- Palm K. 2018, May 17. “SA plastic industry breaks recycling record”. Eye Witness News. Available at http://ewn.co.za/2018/05/17/sa-plastic-industry-breaks-recycling-record
- Ellis M. 2018, January 11. “PE project gives unemployed a helping hand with innovative trading system”. LEADSA. Available at http://leadsa.co.za/articles/287694/project-gives-unemployed-helping-hand-with-trading-system
- Reporter. 2017, August 23. “Soy as an alternative to plastic”. CosmeticBusiness. Available at www.cosmetic-business.com/news/677182
- Van Wyngaardt M. 2016, October 21. “Growing appreciation for the economic and environmental contribution of South Africa’s waste pickers”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/growing-appreciation-for-the-economic-and-environmental-contribution-of-south-africas-waste-pickers-2016-10-21
- Read the article “Plastic pollution risks ‘near permanent contamination of natural environment’” (2017, July) at www.theguardian.com.
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