Illegal dumping: A real threat to our environment and an expensive burden on local government

It stinks; it is unhealthy and costs the municipality millions each year. It is called illegal dumping – the number one enemy of local government. Heaps of waste piling in street corners and open spaces – this has become a regular sight in Emfuleni. The cost of illegal dumping to the environment and the finances of the municipality is massive – and growing by the day.

Illegal dumping is a public service nightmare in which residents and businesses have plunged our municipality into a state of filth, prompting the Executive Mayor, Councillor Jacob Khawe to launch a municipality-wide cleaning campaign.

It is a social scourge we have all become accustomed to, embarrassing us in the face of hundreds of visitors to our shores. It degrades our environment and works against municipal interventions like the mayor’s cleaning campaign which is aimed reducing pollution, minimizing waste and protecting our natural resources. Worthy of a mention is the fact that the mayor’s cleaning campaign works as a bi-weekly program which compliments existing waste removal and dumpsite clearing activities of the municipality.

Illegal dumping

Dumping your waste in street corners and open spaces is illegal due to:

  • The probable impact on the health of affected communities,
  • Possible degradation of the environment,
  • The nuisance value for affected communities,
  • And the impact on municipal infrastructure such as creating potential for blockages of the storm-water or sewerage networks.

Effective solid waste management systems can make critical contributions to public health, environmental sustainability, economic development and poverty reduction. They can contribute to improving public health outcomes through reducing opportunities for disease spreading vermin to thrive, such as occurs at unregulated local dumpsites.

While non-payment of municipal accounts by residents has led to intermittent waste removal by the municipality, illegal dumping remains an unwarranted and dangerous activity which undermines efforts for a cleaner environment.

And then there is the matter of the kind of waste our residents are dumping in their wards – from used needles, condoms, sanitary towels and soiled nappies which all create health hazards for passers-by and loitering kids in our towns. Sadly, illegal dumping does not only take place in our corners and open spaces, but our infrastructure has over the years suffered massive damages after foreign objects were thrown into our manholes and storm-water channels. Subsequent blockages and damages often require hours of paid work by municipal employees and replacement of the affected infrastructure, further burdening the coffers of the municipality.

Municipalities around the country are spending millions of their limited financial resources to invest in monitoring their residential areas against illegal dumping. By bolstering the enforcement of by-laws in collaborative programs with the police and civil society groups in the environment sector, municipalities are essentially diverting much-needed financial muscle from the provision of other basic services to environmental management.

There is no doubt that the cost of solid waste management runs into millions – but just how much more can Emfuleni spend on combating illegal dumping? For a municipality with publicized financial challenges, the role of residents in effective waste management is crucial.

Effective waste management is an ideal every municipality should strive for, but one that can’t be realized if residents fail to play their role by stopping dumping waste in open spaces and paying their municipal accounts to allow for authorized municipal waste collection to take place.

While recycling places an important role in any eco-system, this alone cannot eradicate illegal dumping – which shouldn’t happen in the first place. For any recycling initiative to be successful individuals and companies need to work together with the municipality at landfill sites - this is where municipal trucks take the waste gathered from the streets and illegal dumping sites.

Despite boards put up by the municipality to discourage illegal dumping, this culture continues in our towns. However, it must be noted that unprecedented active citizenry displayed by residents of Sharpeville, who continue to turn dumping sites into beautiful recreational areas must be commended. It is for this reason that Mayor Khawe recently visited the project to witness the good work done by community leaders and members.

Solid waste is collected once a week from a total of 188,774 out of 220,135 households in Emfuleni. The remainder of the households represents the informal settlements that are serviced through the removal of illegal dumping sites. Currently our municipality is faced with challenges in household refuse collection as a result of vehicle shortages needed for waste collection. This has resulted in a backlog in household waste collection where in some areas; refuse removal has been interrupted.

Payment levels for municipal services rendered are at an all-time low with revenue from waste and water at a staggering 18% each. This culture of non-payment of municipal accounts is hampering our efforts to deliver services to our communities.

By Wandisile Kunene

Important Numbers