Recycling Hazardous Wastes in Namibia

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Car battery

Author: John Pallet


Recycling Hazardous Wastes in Namibia


Dangerous Wastes do not Belong in the Normal Garbage

Glass, tin cans, plastics … these are well known as recyclables. Namibia is making great progress to reduce the volumes of materials that go into landfills. But what about seriously dangerous substances like used car oil and dead car batteries – can these be recycled?

Yes they can!

And like other materials, the achievements in Namibia are something to be proud of.

Did you know that you can get money for your old car battery?

A dead car battery – an environmental hazard with its potent acid and lead. But systems are in place to recycle these wastes profitably.

All companies that sell new car batteries should give you at least N$20 for the return of your old one.

Insist on it!

Used Oil

Used oil can be discarded into large tanks put out by the City of Windhoek, so that people don’t pour this highly poisonous substance down the drain or into the ground.

Waste Oil Disposal in Windhoek

There is one at the Bulk Water and Waste Water Headquarters, Pullman Street.

For others, phone CoW’s Pollution Control Inspector, Mr Salatiel Kalimbo, 061-2902903. The 275,000 vehicles in Namibia, as well as the many ships plying our coastline and anchoring in Walvis Bay, generate literally millions of litres of waste oil.

Additionally, the country accumulates over 1,000 tonnes of dead batteries every year.

What happens to all this toxic stuff?

In the worst case, which is not uncommon, the wastes are simply dumped!

At sea, on the ground, into sewers, and into domestic waste bins. A “don’t-care” attitude, and ignorance of how these poisonous substances will kill plants and animals, are to blame.

Good NEWS - Responsible Disposal is Possible

Yet it is not all bad news, and there are significant developments in Namibia that are helping to reduce pollution and to grow the recycling industry.

Used Car Batteries go to South Africa for Recycling

Car batteries last about three years on average. That amounts to just over 90,000 dead batteries produced in Namibia every year.

PowerBat, the Namibian arm of PowerTech in South Africa, is currently the biggest player in this market, and sends about 120 tonnes of waste batteries to SA per quarter!

They are destined for Fry’s Metals, a large smelter in Gauteng, that pays ~R3/kg for the scrap.

This is clearly a win-win: the environment is saved from that much toxic lead and sulphuric acid, and business thrives on the activity, creating employment, improving skills, and building the economy.

80% of Waste Oils in Namibia get Recycled

The situation with waste oils is equally encouraging. About 80% of waste oils are recycled, mainly through collection that is done by a few companies.

Wesco, the largest, has an organised system of collection tanks throughout the country, placed at garages and workshops where large quantities are generated.

The wastes go through a simple cleaning and filtering process in Walvis Bay. This process produces Light Furnace Oil, suitable for using in boilers and burners.

The sector has developed to the extent that a new power station to be established at Arandis ise fired almost entirely by waste oils.

What Needs to be Improved?

Administrative obstacles drive people to find easier (and environmentally more damaging) solutions.

For example, export of hazardous waste is prohibited unless the authorities in both the sending and receiving countries agree to the movement, and issue permits accordingly.

Delays, mistakes, poor communications and unfamiliarity make the system between Namibia and South Africa very inefficient.

The Africa Institute, which focuses on the Basel Convention that governs hazardous waste movements worldwide, could help to streamline the administrative systems, and build skills so that the permitting systems work better. Recycling of hazardous substances is growing, driven by their economic potential and the keen entrepreneurs who have grabbed a business opportunity, and growing awareness.

Prevention of pollution requires a two-pronged approach: a ‘carrot’ or incentive for people to dispose of their wastes responsibly, complemented with a ‘stick’ or legal deterrent that punishes wrong-doers.

At the moment this second component is lacking, or at best, ineffective. All the more reason to give full support to the recycling efforts that have been established so far.

You should be paid about N$20 for returning a dead car battery to a battery seller!

If he doesn’t offer any cash in return for the old one, you should complain to the manager.

The more the ‘cash-back’ system is rolled out (prompted by consumer pressure), the better for us all. Old batteries returned to the distribution warehouses will be collected and fully recycled. If you have serviced your car yourself and need to dispose of the waste oil, ask your local mechanic if he has proper storage facilities to accept your oil.

The City of Windhoek has large drums for use by the public – contact the number above to find out more.