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5.4 Emerging waste recycling trends, recycling value addition processes and associated benefit chains;
In spite of financial, labour, transport and weather elements challenges the industry faces,recycling patterns were changing.The major change realized during the study was the formal sector involvement in waste recycling in Namibia which had gained ground as evidenced by a number of actors in the industry and noticeable changes in the industry that are beneficial to the country and participants. These are discussed in the following section.
5.4.1 Waste Recycling Trends
The researcher wanted to investigate emerging waste recycling changes. The research question was: “Are there any emerging patterns taking place in the industry? And if so, what changes can be highlighted?”
5.4.1.1 Private Sector Participation
The study found the recycling industry in Namibia had evolved over the years to what it was at the time of study. The industry started off in a haphazard state as revealed by the managing director of company C. The industry began to take shape in the mid-nineties when private companies in manufacturing started to organize the industry prompted by the increase in waste generated particularly plastic.
Formal sector participation in the industry was considered a new development in the country. Traditionally, informal recycling sector dominated through waste pickers (scavengers) as a survival strategy. The scavengers recovered any useable items to them ranging from abandoned food, textiles, bottles, broken utensils, plastics and paper destined for personal use or for sale from bins, dumpsites or anywhere accessible. The initiative to promote recycling was started in Windhoek where by recycling stations were set up at shopping centers like the AiGams, Auas, Wernhill Park and Maerua Mall by a few private companies. Materials such as cans and tins, papers, plastic and glass were collected. After collection, companies processed these materials and then exported them to South Africa for further processing into various products. The whole idea was to organize the industry in line with developments in countries like South Africa.
Although recycling efforts were mainly concentrated in major urban centres like Windhoek, Swakopmund and Keetmanshoop, private companies were making inroads to smaller towns like Rundu, and remote areas through opening of new depots and branches in these small towns. To compliment private–public sector efforts in recycling, the business world was reported getting involved as well across the full spectrum of recycling. Businesses had social investment programmes which focus on environmental protection. ‘Our company has a social investment programme which focuses on environmental preservation’ said company L official. The company was outside towns, supplying recyclable receptacles, as well as sponsoring recycling campaigns around the country.
5.4.1.2 Recovery of recyclables
A number of initiatives have evolved on the recovery of recyclables ranging from the traditional informal recycling to drop off centers, point source collection (CBS, etc.) and landfill collection contracts to development of on-site material recovery facilities.
Originally, waste recycling was minimally practiced by a few and most of the materials had to be recovered after disposal, usually from disposal sites. With private companies getting involved in recycling, collection systems were changed. From disposal sites collection, private companies introduced drop off collection sites. At the time of study, changes in collection system of recyclables were evident. Companies A, F, G, J, N and L were becoming more involved in on-site collection, a departure from the traditional system where waste generators sent materials for recycling at drop off centers especially at shopping centers in Windhoek mainly or to companies that were known to be involved in recycling. However, this system was seen to be counterproductive to the recycling drive as not much was brought via this mode. Thus the on-site collection system of collection targeted homes, industries, retail outlets, hotels, lodges, landfill sites, mines, ship wreaks to farms. In their efforts to boast recycling activities in the country, some of the big companies in the private sector signed contracts with some waste generators such as mines, fisheries, farmers, shipping industry, construction industries etc., a slight departure from the original system of material recovery at disposal sites. To facilitate growth in this, company A had its workers on site in these places to facilitate recovery as some of the industries were not keen on recycling activities as learnt during the study. ‘It is not easy to work with some of the industries. So we have our own workers who do recovery in some industries’ said one company official in Swakopmund.
Skip bins for collecting recyclables were seen by the researcher in Windhoek at construction sites and industries a system termed recycling stations. Company E which was into scrap metal recycling was also involved in on site separation and collection for example at the coast where ship breaking was carried out. This was particularly so with large recycler companies, a situation which was not well received by small recycling companies. This was viewed as a setback as they were seen to monopolize the industry. Surviving under the situation was considered difficult as their sources for raw materials was limited. On-site collection system of raw material was being promoted through programmes such as the CBS, orange wheelie bin system, bicycle recycling, dumpsite picking through formal to informal sector agreements.
Clear Bag System
The Clear Bag System was first introduced in Windhoek in 2010 by Company A in partnership with the City of Windhoek. It involved distribution of clear plastic bags to households and File 13 Box in offices in Windhoek into which recyclable raw material were sorted from general waste by individual households. In offices, only paper was put in the File 13 Box. The CBS was first rolled out in high income suburbs of Windhoek as pilot projects done proved that these areas were more receptive to the idea of separating recyclables from other waste streams. Although CBS has been implemented in the middle income areas, the information obtained shows a rather poor performance of these suburbs. In low income areas performance was reported very poor. In one of the suburbs, the bags were actually being used as raincoats and in some cases the clear bags could not be even traced as the researcher learnt. As a result of this, Company A was not keen to continue with the project in those areas.
Apart from Windhoek, the system was rolled out to coastal towns by use of 240litre orange wheelie bins which were different from the municipal green or blue 240 litre wheelie bins. This was done with the approval of the municipal authorities of concerned towns. On the day of waste collection, the orange bins were also collected from the households. Information gathered by the researcher established that performance was also high in high income suburbs than in low income suburbs. Introduction of CBS strategy was a way of encouraging more recycling as the drop off strategy was viewed as yielding less positive results particularly from the general population.
Landfill Site Reclamation
While waste pickers had usually operated from dumpsites, their interaction with waste recycling companies was minimal as the researcher established. Company A and N officials reported that they were recovering products at landfills through contracting waste pickers. A visit at the dumpsite in Keetmanshoop by the researcher verified the heaps of plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and glass bottles found ready for collection. In Windhoek, Contract manger of company I confirmed the development. A group of about twenty waste pickers operated at the landfill on a daily basis.This was also supported by Jacobsen et al ., (2014) research which found out that an authorized and organized cooperative of informal waste collectors operates within the Kupferberg Landfill to recycle material brought in by garbage trucks such as glass bottles, plastic bottles, other plastics, card boxes, cans and paper. This cooperative has been operating at the Kupferberg Landfill since 2000. In Swakopmund, it was also the same with women pickers recovering some materials from the landfill. At the time 35 women were involved in reclamation of recyclables at the site. Efforts to work with the informal sector was not a new idea as literature reveals the importance of this sector in the recycling value chain. Even though they are the least in the ladder of the chain, their role cannot be underestimated.
On –Site Collection
The introduction of on-site collection led to an increase in volumes of recyclables waste collected. In Windhoek, trends showed that the quantity of recyclable raw material collected through the household collection system and the ward contractor system had increased in tonnages from 2011 to 2014 as shown in Figure 4.13, chapter 4. More waste was collected in 2013 and 2014 maybe due to the increase in awareness. Even though areal coverage of recycling was growing, amounts of recyclable raw material dumped at landfill sites was still on the increase attributed to low levels of participation by residents and continued growth of waste due to population growth.
Material Recovery Facilities
With the generation of a steady stream of recyclable came the introduction of the Material Recovery Facilities. The development was established by company A, starting in Windhoek in 2012 followed by Swakopmund in 2015. Plans were reported by the same company to establishing more MRFs facilities around the country. In Windhoek, the MRF one of its kind in southern Africa, is located about 10 km on the western side of the City center on a piece of ground that was donated to the company by the CoW. Materials collected in Windhoek by any recycler are brought to the facility where sorting, processing and baling is done before the same materials are send to markets within and outside the country for further processing. In Swakopmund, the plant was established at the landfill site on land donated by Swakopmund Municipality. The idea of having the plant at the landfill site was to reduce transport costs for collecting recovered material and disposal of residual waste from preprocessing activities in the recovery plant. Other reason highlighted was that residents were not separating organic and non-organic materials, hence the need to do on site pre-processing. In Walvis Bay, plans were also underway to have the MRF constructed at the landfill site in 2016. All materials sorted in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay had to be delivered to Windhoek MRF before they it was finally delivered to end user markets.
5.4.1.3 Growth of the industry
The growth in the industry has been noticed through the introduction of new players and the increased diversity of the recycled raw materials, the involvement of women and the introduction of total recycling of plastic waste.
Statistical information about the exact number of players in the industry at the time of study could not be obtained. However, verbal information made available indicated that there were a growing number of actors who were getting involved. It was no longer the case of big companies but even SMEs were getting involved especially in Windhoek. A large number of players had been interested around 2010-2013 when recycling efforts were being promoted by City of Windhoek. However, by the time of study, the number of small companies had reduced as they could not meet the operational requirements because they were undercapitalized and lacked knowhow. The researcher was only able to get a list of those who were operating in Windhoek. Out of the nineteen SMEs only one was willing to entertain the researcher as the rest were not forthcoming at all despite concerted effort. So the researcher only got to know from the department of Solid Waste Management of the CoW that they were also involved in recovery activities in different areas of Windhoek.
Another development observed at the time of study was recycling of e-waste. The recovery of e-waste began around 2011 in Windhoek. Only one company was in this business at the time of study. To facilitate e-waste collection, company K created 8 drop-off points within the City of Windhoek at institutions such as schools, colleges, universities and at the company premises itself. Any e-waste was dropped in the secured cabin boxes. Most of the drops off points were sponsored by the business world as part of their responsibility to promote environmental conservation. Collection was for free although some customers delivered their items on by themselves.
In 2013, according to the logistics manager, the company collected aound 60 tons of which 14 tones went to SA, 31 tones to company E and 14 tones to Kupferberg landfill after pre-processing. However, volumes were getting less and less; for example, in October 2015 company K only received 12 tones, a situation attributed to depletion of reserves from generators, but in other towns, e-waste was still going to landfills together with other general waste a situation which was viewed as unsustainable considering the nature of e waste. E waste contains some hazardous components like lead, manganese apart from some valuable ones like gold.
Scrap recycling companies E, J and N were affected by fluctuation of demand for recyclable raw materials from international markets. It was revealed that before 2012, the business was quite lucrative as demand for both metals (ferrous and non-ferrous) was quite high both in SA and Asia. The world recession of 2008 was however impacting the industry at the time. Huge stoke piles of scrap could be seen at one of the major scrap companies due to depressed market prices.
Another encouraging development established was the increase of women employment in the industry. Company A reported an employment complement of about 80% of their workforce to be women. Women were credited for being good and patient especially in sorting recyclable raw material. In addition, the empowerment drive being encouraged through the Affirmative Policy saw most companies employing more women even though some officials lamented that the nature of work in the industry was not suitable for women as it was sometimes hard and strenuous. But because most of the women did have little or no formal education, this was their only way for earning a living to support themselves and their families. Thus, they had no choice
Recycling efforts saw the development of a polymer recycling plant in Windhoek in 2005. Before this was established, all recyclables were sent to South Africa for further processing. This development was well supported especially by those in the manufacturing business. Originally, manufacturers in the plastic industry relied on imports for the much needed raw material (pellets) which was considered very costly. However, with more plastic waste generation going on, one of the plastic manufacturing companies established a plastic polymer recycling plant in Okahandja. The company to date produces pellets from recovered plastics from Company A for local market.
Despite an increasing involvement of several companies in recycling initiative, Namibia is still not really where it is supposed to be as most recyclables were still finding their way to disposal sites and at the time there was no marked improvement of recyclables from residential areas, with only 6.4% recycled.