Highlights of the National Environmental Management: Waste Amendment Act 26 of 2014

Ever since July 2009, South Africa's waste management environment has been regulated in terms of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act 59 of 2008 (NEMWA), mainly to promote a waste management system which ensures an environment not harmful to the health and well-being of the public. However, over time, certain aspects have required some attention, and additional needs have arisen. The long-awaited National Environmental Management: Waste Amendment Act 26 of 2014 (“Waste Amendment Act”) has now finally come into operation on 02 June 2014.

To the layman, the changes appear small, but they are not without their implications. The following is a brief summary of the most important amendments, and the implications they might have:

Some concepts of NEMWA’s definitions were seen to be vague and unsatisfactory, and the Waste Amendment Act set about rectifying that. Some notable examples of changes to the definitions include the removal of terms such as “by-product”, “domestic waste”, “business waste” and “building and demolition waste” from section 1 of NEMWA – which has instead been consolidated to form a comprehensive definition of “waste.” An entire Schedule 3 has been added, and is dedicated to listing groups of “defined” waste. Positive news for the environmental sector is that the Waste Amendment Act now includes a definite “end of waste status”, opening up more possibilities in the recycling market. The terms “recovery” and “re-use” have also been superficially amended, and interestingly, the regulation of residue deposits and residue stockpiles and animal carcasses have also been included within the scope of the new Act (these aspects were previously regulated in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 and the Animal Health Act 7 of 2002 respectively).

In terms of NEMWA, the Minister could require any category of persons or a specific industry to submit an industry waste management plan if the generation of that type of waste affected more than one province, or where such activity is conducted in more than one province. The Waste Amendment Act keeps this provision, but adds that the Minister must consult with every MEC of a province affected by the waste in question, or where the waste management activity is conducted, before approving the industry waste management plan. This will hopefully add to the impact and efficacy of the industry plans, and ensure plans tailor-made to address the problems faced in specific areas. In terms of section 28(2) of NEMWA, such industry waste management plans may also be required with regards to the generation of waste that only affects a specific province.

The Waste Amendment Act also gives structure to a pricing strategy for waste management charges. It is still uncertain, however, what the effect of these management charges will be, and who they will affect. It is hoped, however, that the charges will translate to better general funding for waste management in South Africa.

Perhaps the biggest change brought about on the waste management landscape includes the formation of a Waste Management Bureau. The aim of the Bureau will essentially be to boost the already-known, but sadly much-underutilised principles of minimisation, re-use, recovery and recycling of waste. Furthermore, the Bureau will regulate the implementation of waste management plans, specifically so the integrated waste management plans required of municipalities.

Lastly, another important aspect to note, is the inclusion of transitional provisions in respect of existing industry waste management plans. Section 17 of the Waste Amendment Act provides that industry waste management plans that were approved and came into operation before the Waste Amendment Act, are to be dealt with in terms of this new Act. Any plans approved before the commencement of the new Act, however, need to be streamlined and brought on par with the Waste Amendment Act. The amended plans need to be approved by the Minister or MEC before coming into effect. This transitional period will last for 180 calendar days from the commencement of the Waste Amendment Act.

There are also other deadlines regarding this process, and since time has a tendency to fly towards the end of a year, if you are operating in terms of an industry waste management plan that was approved before the commencement of the new Act, attention should be paid to getting an amended version of that plan approved as soon as possible.

October 19, 2014
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