11 August 2022

Taking Control of Waste Management in Waterfall City

This month, we conclude our five-part series examining the infrastructure innovation within Waterfall. In this edition, our attention falls on Waterfall’s waste management processes – an integral aspect of creating a sustainable environment in a smart city.

According to Piet Joubert, GM of the Waterfall Management Company, landfill sites are not sustainable, with many operators taking shortcuts when it comes to waste disposal. “This has resulted in Waterfall deciding to manage our waste disposal ourselves, as sustainably and responsibly as possible. The first step in this process is understanding how much and what kind of waste Waterfall generates. From there, it is about determining the value of the waste, especially when it comes to upcycling and recycling initiatives. It is a comprehensive, scientific process with the end goal of zero waste to landfill.”

A changing regulatory environment and the National Waste Management Strategy* provide further impetus to do so. The aim is for 45% of waste to be diverted from landfill within five years; 55% within 10 years; and at least 70% within 15 years.

“It made sense for us to begin with organic waste. With sustainability being a key pillar of Waterfall, we decided not to rely on external waste management companies, but rather implement our own system. Of course, just like any other city or town, the waste environment in Waterfall is unique, given all the role players involved. However, we want to show residents and businesses here that our approach works, with the focus on creating a circular economy around waste management,” he adds.

Heron IVC Machine

Waterfall has recently implemented the revolutionary Heron IVC (in-vessel composter) machine. This waste management optimisation solution is designed to reduce waste and landfills in the area. It can process up to 80 000kg of food waste per month to help the entire Waterfall community fight the carbon battle, while also creating a nutrient-rich fertiliser for gardens, parks, and fields. So far, the food waste from Mall of Africa, Polofields Crossing and Waterfall Wilds is being processed on a monthly basis, with Waterfall Wilds contributing most of the cardboard.

Here’s how the food waste recycling process utilising the Heron IVC machine works:

  • Food waste is high in nitrogen and, as such, needs to be balanced with carbon, which also helps to mitigate moisture. The carbon source used in this regard is cardboard. The ratio of the cardboard is about 25% of the food waste.
  • The mechanism of the Heron IVC spreads both the food waste and cardboard evenly across the vessel, aerating the mixture at the same time. This process is monitored constantly.
  • After 2-3 weeks in the machine, the precompost is discharged and taken to the main compost site. There, it is mixed with garden waste to mature fully into organic compost.
  • During this 6-8 week maturation process, it is turned regularly with the help of a Tractor-Loader-Backhoe (TLB).
  • The end product is then ready for the garden.

Centralising Waste Management

Over and above this, Waterfall aims to create a centralised waste management facility on site. This will provide residents with a place to drop off their recyclables, including e-waste. Key to this is to separate the wet waste (food and contaminated cardboard) and dry waste (plastics, tin, glass, and so on).

“Our aim is to have a system that measures our compliance when the regulations change. This can entail a barcode scanning solution, especially for commercial entities that are already separating their waste at the source,” adds Joubert.

Ruan Spies, Sustainability Manager at the Waterfall Management Company, explains that the public’s general awareness of the importance of recycling is vastly different from thirty years ago. “Children are more educated about recycling and can help their parents understand how best to separate waste. In general, our waste recycling is already doing very well throughout Waterfall,” he says.

Joubert agrees. “Most of the residential estates within Waterfall are already separating their waste at the source. However, this is still something that is voluntary. With that said, we want to make it as easy as possible for people to recycle and therefore we are working on some innovate solutions to prompt all Waterfall stakeholders to get involved in the recycling process. Once the centralised waste management facility opens, we will encourage people within Waterfall and surrounding communities to come and drop off their recyclables at our facility,” says Joubert.

The facility will also geo-locate recycling bins throughout the city for smart route planning to be done. The waste trucks will then be able to collect the bins from people’s homes. The plan is to do this via the Go Waterfall app, making it convenient for everyone in the community.

“Even though we have just begun working on conceptualising and planning this facility, the eventual aim is full automation. But for now, the focus is on making incremental changes to improve the process flow as much as possible,” says Spies.

Sustainability above all

Spies says that Waterfall is preparing for a time when separating waste will become mandatory due to legislation. “Residents and businesses here are embracing this, as they understand the importance of being sustainable. However, whilst we are not in favour of landfilling, it must be realised that it still has its place due to the limitations of what can be realistically recycled in South Africa. In the same breath, property is a valuable commodity, and it can be argued that there are more economically attractive developments than having a landfill near your premises.”

“But there are significant logistical costs in terms of distances travelled, also factoring in the high fuel costs, which further exacerbate the problem. Furthermore, it takes a long time to establish a licensed landfill, which essentially entails environmental impact studies, construction and fulfilment of operational requirements before waste can be landfilled. In addition, there is a post-closure period which can be anything from ten to thirty years before the land can be used again. So, we hope this centralised waste management facility will be well received,” he comments.

Joubert adds that Waterfall will also consider various recycling initiatives in which residents and businesses can participate, and where recognition will be provided to those who contribute significantly towards the recycling process and the efforts of the development.

“This will help create healthy rivalry between our estates, the commercial entities, and schools in the development. From our perspective, it will greatly assist in helping to measure how many tons of waste we are recycling as well as changing behaviour to put waste management top of mind, making this sustainable messaging a part of what living in Waterfall means,” says Joubert.

Future thinking

Spies believes it is important to draw inspiration from what the rest of the world is doing when it comes to waste. “There are many forward-thinking companies and entrepreneurs involved in waste management. We are constantly researching and looking for ingenious ways to repurpose waste since it forms such a critical aspect of sustainability. We also feel it is essential to help the surrounding communities in this regard. For example, we envision assisting Alexandra to drive sustainability and waste awareness. The success thereof will depend on support from The City of Johannesburg and relevant NGOs where the ideal scenario would be to address pollution concerns of the Jukskei River, which will benefit all communities downstream,” says Spies.

“Waterfall already has processes in place that include people picking up litter along the river to support in cleaning it up. The next steps are to identify certain waste items, which can be potentially recycled or repurposed in an attempt to further minimise what is thrown away. Such processes are important, to ensure waste is broken down and disposed of responsibly,” says Joubert.

The central message though is clear. Because of the capital investment required to acquire and set up equipment, Waterfall needs complete visibility of what it has in terms of waste and how to manage it as optimally as possible. Only once the homework has been done, can things be rolled out to enhance Waterfall and the surrounding communities.

Lourens du Toit, Head of Sustainability, Infrastructure and Land at Attacq, echoes this sentiment. “It begins with developing an integrated waste management plan that entails an in-depth study of the waste generated. This includes the type and volume of waste generated. From there, it is about understanding the waste value chain in order for us to identify the opportunities, as well as determine the potential to leverage economies of scale of any specific initiatives,” he says.

Joubert says it all comes down to communicating the seriousness of the waste issue in South Africa. “Many of our residents want to participate in recycling, especially when it comes to organic waste. It is up to us to provide them with a viable, user-friendly solution,” he concludes.