Friday, August 22, 2003

by Kerry Liebenberg

The Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs (GDACEL) will shortly release draft regulations to regulate the management of health care risk waste (HCRW) in Gauteng and to institute an information system for all waste produced in Gauteng. The HCRW regulations will impact on those who produce HCRW (such as hospitals, clinics and laboratories), transport HCRW, or treat or dispose of HCRW. The waste information system (WIS) regulations will have a far reaching effect on all parties who participate in the waste stream. Lawyers from Bowman Gilfillan, (in particular the writer Kerry Liebenberg) were the primary drafters of these regulations.
Historically in South Africa, the proper management of health care waste has been neglected. This was mainly due to a lack of awareness and capacity within health care institutions. In 1997 the health care waste management system in Gauteng was in crisis. At that time, there was limited capacity to responsibly and sustainably dispose of HCRW generated in the province. In addition, the quantities of HCRW requiring treatment and disposal were unknown and on site treatment of HCRW was occurring at many of the generators of such waste, using poorly operated, outdated technology. The commercially operated incinerators were being utilised to capacity, resulting in poor operation and maintenance; and crucially, emissions standards were not being applied at HCRW incinerators.

During 1998 the GDACEL initiated a project designed to address the full health care waste stream in Gauteng from “cradle to grave”. The long-term goal of the project is to establish sustainable health care waste management in Gauteng within the principles of the National Waste Management Strategy. The project was undertaken jointly between the Danish Cooperation for the Environment and Development and various South African consultants, with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) being the Executing Agency and GDACEL the Implementing Agency. The project undertaken in Gauteng is a pilot study for the broader National initiative, and as such will have far reaching consequences for HCRW management in South Africa.
During the course of the project, GDACEL undertook extensive research on HCRW in Gauteng and has amongst other things, produced a report on the status of HCRW management in Gauteng; developed the Sustainable HCRW Management Policy for Gauteng, which was endorsed by the Provincial Cabinet in 2003; produced a Feasibility Report and a Health Care Waste Composition Study; developed Health Care Waste Management Guidelines, technical specifications, the Health Care Waste Management Strategy and Action Plans, and a roll out plan to ensure sustainability.
To facilitate enforcement, it was necessary to codify the findings of the strategy development process outlined above. As a result Bowman Gilfillan was selected to draft the required legislation (the HCRW regulations) which will be gazetted within the next few weeks for public comment. The HCRW regulations aim to facilitate integrated, environmentally sustainable and occupationally safe HCRW management in Gauteng, covering the full health care waste stream. The HCRW regulations are set to revolutionise HCRW management in Gauteng by amongst other things, setting minimum performance standards for combustion and non-combustion treatment technologies. In addition the HCRW regulations aim to regulate a management system for HCRW in Gauteng by requiring all HCRW transporters, transfer stations and treatment facilities to be registered and authorised by the GDACEL. By providing mechanisms for ensuring that HCRW generated in Gauteng is treated only at compliant plants; and allowing for the closure of non-compliant treatment plants through a regulated process, the HCRW regulations aim to ensure that HCRW is managed responsibly in an environmentally sustainable and occupationally safe manner.
In addition to the HCRW regulations, Bowman Gilfillan was approached to draft legislation establishing a WIS for Gauteng. The requirements of the so called WIS regulations facilitate the collection of accurate data regarding waste in the Province and will enable the Province to plan for sufficient waste treatment and disposal capacity requirements; and influence spatial planning and development appropriately. The WIS regulations establish verification procedures enabling GDACEL to audit data submitted in terms of those regulations and establish a ‘waste audit trail’. Such data on trends of waste quantities will, amongst other things, facilitate well-informed State of the Environment Reporting.
The WIS regulations envisage a staged approach whereby various persons involved in the management of waste (such as hazardous waste transporters, landfill operators, and HCRW generators, transporters, transfer stations, treatment and disposal facilities) will be required to register and report to the system as and when they are identified in a Schedule to the WIS Regulations, by notice in the Gazette.