The National Environmental Management: Waste Act, No 59 of 2008 (the “Waste Act“) is a complimentary act to the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA). It aims to regulate waste management in order to protect health and the environment through the minimisation of the consumption of natural resources and generation of waste, ensuring the treating and safe disposal of waste, and the prevention of pollution and ecological degradation (section 2(a)).
The act sets certain standards and requirements that are applicable to all waste. The act also lists certain waste management activities cannot be conducted by any person unless the activity is conducted in accordance with the prescribed standards and a waste management licence is issued if required for the activity (section 20). To determine whether a waste management licence is needed the following questions must be answered.
Definition of “waste”
Is the substance a “waste” regulated in terms of the act?
Waste is defined very broadly in the act, and includes:
- any substance or material that is unwanted, discarded or abandoned or is intended to be discarded or disposed of;
- all substances listed in schedule 3 of the act; and
- any other substance the minister identifies as waste by notice published in the government gazette (section 1).
Listed activities in terms of the Waste Act
If the substance is waste, is the intended activity listed as an activity that requires a waste management licence? The listed activities are, again, listed broadly and include a wide range of activities such as storage, recycling, treatment and disposal of waste, and the construction of facilities to accomplish these activities (GN 921 in GG 37083 of 29 November 2013).
The requirement to get a licence before conducting these activities may depend on the place where the activity is conducted and the volumes that are involved (GN 921).
For the mineral and petroleum industry the regulation of residue stockpiles and residue deposits as waste is particularly significant. These activities were previously excluded from regulation under the Waste Act (repealed section 4(b)). The act was, however, amended in 2014 as part of the effort to create a single environmental management system to regulate environmental management in South Africa. Residue stockpiles and residue deposits, defined to include all waste resulting from exploration, mining, quarrying, and physical and chemical treatment of minerals, are now a listed waste for the purposes of the Waste Act (sections 1 and schedule 3).
Depending on the activities that are conducted by mineral and petroleum companies, a waste management licence may have to be obtained in respect of stockpiles and deposits. This is in addition to the general requirement that all stockpiles and deposits must be managed in the manner prescribed by the act and deposited on a site designated for that purpose in the applicable environmental management plan or programme (the EMP) (sections 24S of NEMA, and sections 1 and 43A of the Waste Act).