[HOT SEAT] Unlocking a sustainable future | Infrastructure news

As the Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) for the paper and paper packaging sector, Fibre Circle has been at the forefront of implementing the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations. Newly appointed CEO Edith Leeuta talks to ReSource about how accurate data, enforcement and compliance are essential for the success of EPR.

Why are EPR regulations important?

EL These regulations are exactly what our country needs right now. According to the latest statistics, South Africans generate roughly 122 million tonnes of waste per year. Of this waste, only 10% is recycled or recovered – with the rest going to landfill. It’s also common knowledge that we don’t have enough land to use for landfilling, with most municipalities set to run out of landfill space in the next five years. This means South Africa is on the verge of a waste crisis.

The implementation of the EPR regulations offers us the opportunity to create a framework to divert waste from landfills, create a secondary economy, and beneficiate our waste by increasing material recovery, recycling and reuse rates. We need these regulations if we are going to move away from our linear take-make-waste mindset towards a more circular economy. Simply put, the EPR regulations will help us to put our money where our mouths are.

Why does Fibre Circle, as a PRO, aim to encourage partnership and collaboration?

The EPR regulations bring together the producers, distributors, collectors and consumers of a particular product into one space, allowing them to take shared responsibility and accountability for the end-of[1]life of that product. To leave waste collection and beneficiation efforts solely in the hands of the public sector is not feasible. We all have a role to play here, which is why Fibre Circle aims to provide support for the development of sustainable, end-of-life programmes with a strong emphasis on collaboration – not just with our paper and paper packaging producers but also the consumers and collectors of our waste products.

Tell us more about the ‘inclusive circular economy’ concept Fibre Circle promotes.

There is an individual responsibility; then there is also the communal responsibility. Although we are all individually responsible for the environment, the responsible disposal of waste must not be an individual venture. We need to adopt a collaborative approach. Through the implementation of the EPR regulations, producers are required to manage their products’ end-of-life by developing initiatives for the reuse and recycling of their materials. The consumer is then required to make use of these programmes by implementing separation at source and by being more conscious about recycling their waste.

Municipalities will also need to come on board to improve collection. We cannot ask consumers to separate at source if the separated waste will simply go into the same compactor truck, to be dumped at landfill – it defeats the purpose. That’s why our aim is to improve paper collection and recycling programmes across South Africa by working with different stakeholders to enable practical solutions through innovation, research and consumer education – creating an inclusive circular economy.

What are your plans as the newly appointed CEO of Fibre Circle?

Although I am still learning about this diverse sector, familiarising myself with the industry role players and wrapping my head around how dynamic the paper and paper packaging industry is, I am really excited about the legacy work I am going to create with my team and partners. I believe that I have the energy as well as a bit of youth to be able to focus on areas that are really going to change lives and change how the public consumes our products. My ultimate goal is to have zero paper and paper packaging going to landfill.

Second, it’s to beneficiate our waste so that we can redirect our products into programmes that will utilise it, thus forming an economically sustainable industry around what we create. Waste reclaimers are very valuable to our waste management industry, and they play an important role in South Africa’s recycling efforts.

I also want to focus my efforts on improving how reclaimers are treated and compensated for their work. Another focus area will be to bring research back into the space. The EPR scheme is going to assist with a lot of research, the collection of accurate data, knowledge sharing and monitoring, which will help us develop the right solutions for an environmentally progressive society.

What are some of Fibre Circle’s key focuses going into 2022?

Our aim is to improve paper and paper packaging collection and recycling programmes across South Africa by managing the EPR fees entrusted to us. Fibre Circle works with paper and paper packaging stakeholders to enable practical solutions, innovation, research and development, thereby enhancing the circular nature of paper fibre and process waste. We also aim to empower the informal recycling sector and develop markets for recycled paper fibre through research, innovation and enterprise development.

Fibre Circle aims to assist our registered producers to keep in step with EPR legislation and support the broader value chain on the journey to an inclusive economy.

What are your plans to provide support to SMMEs?

I am personally passionate about SMMEs because my grandfather sold vegetables in Kliptown when I was growing up. Doing that, he was able to feed his family. The public and private sector can never create enough jobs to absorb everyone but through the EPR regulations, we’ll be able to provide support for the creation and development of small- to medium-sized businesses, with waste beneficiation and job creation as major objectives, particularly in rural areas.

We can help with the development of SMMEs by creating an environment that is conducive to fair compensation and prosperity.

Any final comments?

South Africa is a beautiful country and has some of the most diverse fauna and flora – we need to guard it jealously. The EPR scheme is not just some inert campaign that doesn’t affect us. Paper and paper packaging are part of our everyday lives – from your toothpaste box to the wrapping on your sandwich – all of that is paper and we need to be more conscious of this. Kudos to the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, for making sure that the EPR regulations and many other schemes have been gazetted.

The producers of these products really do want to do the right thing – the willingness and passion are there. And as consumers, we really can do better. The EPR regulations seek to ensure a sustainable future, founded on the right infrastructure, knowledge and research.

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