The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed its concern around the management of healthcare waste produced during the Covid-19 pandemic. The problem is however much wider than the millions of PPE and vaccine items that joined unsustainable waste management practices over the past two years.

“We will soon shift from a period dominated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic to a period of focus on realising the concept of circular economy,” says Brendon Jewaskiewitz, President of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA). “The sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of environmental health is something can’t remain on the bottom of the agenda any longer.”

The circular economy concept reflects the patterns and systems of the indefinite reuse and recycling of products. It challenges the existing linear ‘take-make-waste’ model, and proposes a circular, more holistic approach to growth that works for both business and the environment.

In the circular economy, products are designed for durability, reuse and recyclability, and materials for new products come from old products. As much as possible is reused, re-manufactured, recycled back into a raw material, or used as a source of energy. Each product at the end of its life therefore becomes a resource rather than merely being discarded.

“In a circular economy, disposal is considered a last resort,” explains Jewaskiewitz. “Single use items started as a convenience, then some became a symbol of luxury, and during the pandemic it became a necessity to protect human health.”

“The reality is however one that very few want to face; we are running out of landfill space at a frightening rate, and alternative waste disposal solutions are simply not popular or affordable enough to compensate for the vast amounts of waste created every minute.”

In an effort to speed up the adoption of a circular economy mindset and highlight the availability of responsible and sustainable waste management methods, the IWMSA will host WasteCon 2022 in October this year. The Institute invites waste management professionals and experienced participants in the circular economy to submit their proposal to present their work to WasteCon 2022 attendees.

“We need to explore where we are now in respect of the state of waste management and circular economy and what we have done well or badly in the past,” says Jewaskiewitz. “Only then will we be in a solid position to decide what we should continue doing well, and what we should be doing better or differently in the future to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of environmental health.”

The event will attract a wide variety of waste management and environmentally focused professionals, including contractors, equipment providers, researchers, engineers, civil servants, regulators, environmental impact practitioners, industrial waste producers, alternative waste management entrepreneurs.