Agricultural hazardous waste : understanding the hazardous waste cycle in the maize production chain and testing a methodology to collect waste information for the development of a waste register
Nell, Arjen Wallace
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The management of agricultural chemicals and waste is imperative in order to ensure proper resource protection and good environmental management. Various studies done in South Africa have illustrated the impact of agricultural waste and chemical mismanagement on the environment and on water resources in particular. Nationally, South Africa aims to manage waste streams by means of a hazardous waste register and locally the provincial departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in South Africa should develop such waste registers. This masters project is based on a proposal to develop a hazardous waste source inventory for the Free State province through the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DETEA) of the Free State Province. The development of a hazardous waste source inventory is important to effectively manage various kinds of hazardous waste sources. Hazardous waste spans various industries (medical waste, industrial waste, agricultural waste) and it can be a huge task to develop a waste register for each province in South Africa. With reference to agricultural waste, the impact of agricultural hazardous waste on water resources is becoming an increasing concern and challenges in the agricultural waste management industry in South Africa are on the rise. The aim of this study was to understand the waste cycle and test a methodology for collecting waste information for the development of a waste database, with a specific focus on agricultural waste in the maize sector. Additional aims included determining whether the agricultural maize sector uses and disposes of its agro-chemicals and other production cycle wastes effectively and to propose alternative management options for more effective management of these chemicals. In order to delimit the study, this study focused specifically on agricultural waste associated with the maize production cycle. The methodology followed in this study was also used in similar studies in other countries (Sweden, France, UK, USA) and involved the development of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews for farmers and chemical distribution agents. Qualitative data obtained from the questionnaires was analysed thematically and quantitative data was analysed using Excel and IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 10. The objective of the study was achieved by developing questionnaires that address questions related to chemical usage and waste in the maize sector. These questionnaires were administered to farmers and chemical distributors in the selected sampling areas. Questionnaire development took place through interviews with parties such as FS Agriculture, Grain SA and pre-testing was done on maize farmers and other relevant people. Results from the questionnaires were used together with data from chemical distributors, databases and literature to develop a baseline indication of chemical usage and waste in the agricultural maize sector. The study showed that determining average volumes of agro-chemicals used in different phases of the maize production sector can be quite complex. This complexity is due to various factors – pesticides may have different names but the same active ingredients, a single pesticide can be used for different pests (by using different concentrations and application methods), in some cases there is uncertainty amongst farmers on how to effectively apply these pesticides, whether the agro-chemical is in a granular or liquid form, and factors like soil type, climate conditions and varying types and amounts of pests and weeds which influences agro-chemical usage in different areas. All these factors make it very difficult to calculate average pesticide volumes used per production cycle just for the maize industry. If one takes into account that agriculture spans a much wider production industry than just maize (e.g. vegetables, cotton etc) the complexity increases even more. This study illustrates the fact that another more effective approach may be required to gather accurate data to populate waste databases for each province. Alternative approaches can include web surveys or voluntary registration by farmers and reporting of chemical type and volumes used either by post or on a web based system. This research addressed key questions related to hazardous waste management in the agricultural maize sector in South Africa and tested a methodology for gathering information to populate hazardous waste registers. The development of hazardous waste registers is a very important waste management tool which the DETEA aims to employ to ensure proper resource protection and waste management, and this study may make valuable contributions towards the development of such waste registers.