In appealing a directive to close its FG Landfill site in Olifantsfontein, JSE-listed waste management group Interwaste has denied being the cause of a bad smell that has its neighbours in high-end Midstream Estate in Olifantsfontein up in arms.
The company did, however, admit to Moneyweb earlier that it had been “a bad neighbour”.
Interwaste has vowed to keep on fighting what it considers to be a procedurally unfair, irrational and disproportional directive by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to close down the site that generates about 5% of group revenue and 10% of its profit.
The group says the closure of the site, which receives about 60 000 tonnes of waste daily, could cost it R360 000 per day, leave Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni without a legally-compliant site to dispose of its waste and add R3 million per month to the waste disposal cost of the two cities over the medium term.
In its directive dated February 10, the department instructed Interwaste to cease all disposal activities within five working days, undertake certain specialist studies and report on the findings within specified time frames.
Interwaste immediately appealed the decision and brought a court order to suspend the directive while the appeal is pending.
The Greater Midstream Forum, representing residents of Midstream, however lodged an application with environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa to make an exception and close the site while the appeal was being determined. The department told Moneyweb that the minister “will now be urgently assessing all the relevant information received in this regard in order to make a decision on whether or not to suspend the directive”.
Should she decide not to suspend the directive, Interwaste is expected to go to court again.
In its directive DEA deputy director-general Ishaam Abader states: “There is evidence of pollution and environmental degradation taking place as a result of the FG Landfill site.” He refers to “thousands of complaints” based on “air pollution; including odour, burning eyes and skin, sinusitis, and other respiratory ailments. These complaints have continued even after the installation of the new flare,” he states.
The flare Abader refers to is part of a state-of-the-art gas management system that Interwaste installed at FG last year at a cost of R15 million. A further R3.5 million will be spent in the current year. The system will later form part of an electricity generation project that will deliver annuity income to Interwaste.
In an interview with Moneyweb, Interwaste CEO Alan Willcocks admitted to being “a bad neighbour” for about a year ended October last year. This, he says, was the unintended consequence of complying with new legislation.
Willcocks says FG is the first site in Gauteng to have complied with new legislative requirements by lining its landfill site with 1.5 mm high-density polyethylene. Older sites have clay linings or no linings at all.
He says that traditionally, significant gas formation occurs about four to five years after operations start on a landfill site. In the case of FG it happened after four months and caught the group unaware.
Willcocks ascribes this to the new lining that retains more moisture, which is conducive to the growth of bacteria, and says that as soon as the group became aware of the issue, it was reported to the department.
In its appeal, Interwaste describes how it has also covered its leachate dam in an effort to curb bad odours. The group relies on a report by environmental consultancy GeoZone, showing that the hydrogen sulfide levels on site have been reduced since the commissioning of the new flare. Interwaste states: “Even though the LFG Plant (the flare) has not fully stabilised, it is definitely having a positive effect and it is certainly premature to order the closure of the FG Site.”
The group says it has not been given access to the “thousands of complaints”, or the other documents the DEA relies on, which it contends renders the process procedurally unfair. It in fact questions whether there are indeed that many complaints. It says that from an earlier summary of complaints provided by the DEA, it was clear that a handful of people lodged the majority of complaints.
According to Interwaste, the Olifantsfontein area features several heavy industrial operations and there is no scientific proof that the malodour is caused by activities at FG. In any event there is no health threat that warrants the closure of the site, Interwaste argues.
It has proposed to continue operations but divert sulphur-rich waste that might lead to bad odours to other sites from the end of this month. This, Moneyweb has learnt, is mostly industrial waste. According to Willcocks such waste from platinum producer Lonmin has been diverted to Interwaste’s Delmas site for some time already.
Abader earlier rejected this proposal as “business as usual”.
Interwaste is also in a dispute with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development about the validity of its license to operate FG. This is currently before the court.
Willcocks says the conduct of the regulators is not conducive to investment in the capital-intensive waste management industry. He says Gauteng is fast running out of landfill space and there is little hope that the necessary investment will come from the public sector.
Private sector investors, however, have to contend with irrational regulatory conduct that negatively impacts investor confidence.
Interwaste’s share price closed at R1.15 on Friday and has increased by 40% over the last year, 21% over the last 30 days and 5.5% over the last seven.
Oops! We could not locate your form.