Waste pickers scavenge through rubbish at Roundhill dumpsite in Berlin in the Eastern Cape. The South African government has convened the fifth annual Waste Management Khoro, bringing together all the players in the waste-management value chain, says the writer. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH
Waste pickers scavenge through rubbish at Roundhill dumpsite in Berlin in the Eastern Cape. The South African government has convened the fifth annual Waste Management Khoro, bringing together all the players in the waste-management value chain, says the writer. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

AT THE annual gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos earlier this year the phrase on everybody’s lips was "circular economy". This, according to the WEF, is a new way of seeing the way in which we manage our world in a time of increased resource scarcity.

It is about the "transformation of business models, and government-business-societal relationships through new technological innovation", creating jobs and catalysing economic development, especially in the green economy in the process.

At a time when countries across the world are grappling with ways to balance meeting the demands of an increasing population with environmental protection, the South African government has convened the fifth annual Waste Management Khoro, the first such gathering that is open not just to government officials, but all sector role players. Having all the players in the waste-management value chain at this event is an affirmation of the need to work together to grow a sector with an estimated total value of R25bn to the South African economy.

Despite its value, the rate of waste recycling is not being maximised. Aided by a sound and comprehensive regulatory framework to accelerate the waste-recycling economy, industry, working in partnership with the government, will be able to unlock economic opportunities by transforming the way in which waste is managed and processed. At the same time, this sector offers an opportunity for beneficiation in ways that create jobs and impart skills through the creation of new enterprises that bring new players into the space.

This requires a partnership with the private sector.

A successful example of this is the waste tyre management plan, Redisa, which was recently a finalist in The Circulars 2016 at the WEF, which recognises innovation in the circular economy. This shows you just how much South African companies, big and small, are making an impact in moving our economy towards more sustainable business practices.

Sound waste-management practices are also key to the government’s service delivery agenda, and the Department of Environmental Affairs continues to deal with getting the basics right including prioritising the licensing of waste-disposal sites, educating communities on the negative effects of illegal dumping and poorly managed landfill sites, the finalisation of a hazardous waste road map, chemicals management and bolstering compliance monitoring and enforcement capacity, and the implementation of authorised waste management best practice.

We continue to prioritise the provision of hands-on support to municipalities in sound waste-management practices, such as refuse removal. The Municipal Systems Act provides for a municipal framework for incentives to encourage recycling and it is gratifying to note that some municipalities are being proactive and innovative in the recycling and pre-sorting of waste. We are seeing a steady increase in the recycling rates of paper, plastic, metal and glass.

To scale up recycling enterprises in the waste sector, we launched the recycling enterprise support programme, which will provide the initial capital set-up costs for emerging entrepreneurs. In the first call for proposals, we received more than 200. We are working with the departments of small business development and labour, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Public Investment Corporation, among others, on various financing models to ensure massive scale-up, transformation and job creation.

We are also pursuing a partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry’s Technology Venture Capital Fund, which is managed by the IDC. It provides business support and seed capital for the commercialisation of innovative products, processes and technologies.

While it is important to develop strategies, plans and policies, no amount of technological innovation can compensate for creating real, tangible, decent jobs in the sector.

 • Molewa is minister of environmental affairs