Waste disposal or discharge : a harmonised regulatory framework towards sustainable use
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The discharge of waste into a water resource and its disposal on land can easily cause pollution, especially of the water resource. However, it has long been accepted that these activities also form an integral part of a holistic waste management strategy aimed at achieving sustainability. The South African Constitution ensures a basic right to an environment that is not harmful to human health and well-being, and states that pollution must be prevented, the environment must be protected, and sustainable use of resources must be promoted, through "reasonable legislative and other measures" .. The other measures that are currently used by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to determine whether a waste disposal or discharge action is allowable, are contained in the documents "Procedures to Assess Effluent Discharge Impacts" and "Minimum Requirements for the Handling, Classification, and Disposal of Hazardous Waste". These measures are evaluated to determine whether they are reasonable and effective in distinguishing between sustainable use and pollution in terms of newly promulgated legislation aimed at managing the environment and the water resource. The criteria used for this evaluation are based on the principles of sustainability, the components of risk analysis, and the scientific concepts and principles of waste discharge and disposal management. Based on this evaluation, the shortcomings of current mechanisms are highlighted, and their advantages are incorporated into a proposed integrated regulatory framework for an assessment and decision-making approach based on risk harmonisation, which has various advantageous applications, including: • The identification of cleaner production alternatives; • The identification of an appropriate medium of disposal or discharge (water or land); • The selection of the Best Practical Environmental Option (BPEO) for treatment, disposal or discharge methods; • The licensing of sustainable waste disposal or discharge actions; • The setting of charges for waste discharge activities; • The prioritisation of regulatory intervention; and • The rehabilitation of contaminated areas. The findings of this investigation comprise the first step taken in South Africa towards the harmonisation of assessment and decision-making approaches, which could have important implications for integrated waste and environmental management in the future.