Description: In eThekwini Municipality in KZN, a quiet revolution in waste management has been underway by the Department of Solid Waste. In 1995, for the first time in South Africa, and perhaps the world, a landfill has been named a conservancy site. The Mariannhill Landfill Conservancy has instituted a number of policies not to only prevent environmental contamination but also to restore and conserve the spoiled environment. This is done largely through four main policies. The first is a barrier system, not necessarily new in landfills, that prevents landfill liquid waste, leachate, and gasses, methane, from escaping through the ground. What is new however is that instead of allowing the leachate to join sewage water, where its high nitrogen content would be corrosive and dangerous, it is treated at 50 cubic meters a day and aerated by natural processes so that water can be released into the environment. Methane gas too is also beginning to be tapped. Instead of letting it flow into the atmosphere where it could continue to contribute to the greenhouse effect, a series of pipes is being installed and a generator purchased to burn this gas into electricity. This is done through carbon finance from the World Bank Prototype Carbon Fund. Finally, for finished areas of the landfill and border areas, the original plants and soil, saved in a nursery called the Plant Recovery Unity (PRUNIT), are being restored. This is all done with funding from the eThekwini Municipality and is already being replicated in landfills throughout the district.
Innovation: This form of naturalistic engineering is completely new in the country and perhaps the world. The recognition that landfills especially need not infringe on the local environment more than they have to, is unique and noble. None of the technologies involved are new, but in combining them and registering the landfill as a conservancy is a novel approach.
Effectiveness: Leachate is currently being treated. It is used primarily to spray down dust on roads but could be released into the natural system if desired. Drilling has been done and some piping installed for the methane gas-electricity component. A generator is on the way but has not been installed yet. Once it has, it should be able to run all the landfills electricity needs and put some back into the grid. PRUNIT is active and successful. Plants and soil are diligently recorded and saved in a nursery unit and replanted in areas when appropriate.
Poverty Impact: There is no direct poverty impact except that 2000 people have been educated in naturalistic engineering and thus have potential for different employment opportunities.
Sustainability: The landfill's efforts are funded by the Municipality and are within the Department of Solid waste's budget. If electricity is produced it will earn extra income and the use of leachate as water saves money on pumping in outside water.
Replication: The project is currently being replicated in all new landfill sites and some rehabilitated ones. Barriers are mandatory and leachate treatment and methane to electricity functions as well as PRUNIT are standard models.