How Averda disposes of listeria-infected waste

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The world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis has gripped South Africa over the past few months, leading to the death of 183 people with a further 961 confirmed cases. The source has been traced back to an Enterprise Foods factory in Polokwane, sparking a nationwide recall of processed meats such as polony and viennas.Listeria-infected meats should not be dumped as this could encourage the spread of the bacteria and put the waste workers at risk. This contagious nature classifies it as infectious waste and means that special handling and proper disposal are important. It is estimated that 4000 tonnes of potentially-infected food waste has been discarded.“There are a number of regulations that govern the disposal of infectious waste to ensure it is segregated from general waste streams, stored and sealed in protective containers and safely transported for treatment,” says managing director of Averda South Africa Johan van den Berg. “This ensures that no one (human or animal) comes into contact with the dangerous substance,” he clarifies.

How is infectious waste destroyed?

Untreated infectious waste must not be sent to standard landfills as that could lead to the deadly bacteria spreading or contaminating groundwater and scavenging animals. Infectious waste must be treated and destroyed completely by incineration to ensure that any pathogens are killed.With 4000 tonnes of waste waiting to be destroyed, and South Africa’s incineration facilities running at capacity, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has allowed the use of Class A Landfills to be used in the disposal of processed meats. This will speed up the process of dealing with the contaminated waste before it spreads further.Class A Landfills are equipped to deal with hazardous materials and contain any risk associated with deadly pathogens such as listeria. Averda’s own Class A Landfill, Vlakfontein, deals with 30 000 to 40 000 tonnes of hazardous waste every month and is being used in the disposal of processed meats.

Averda’s role in disposing of infectious waste

Upon the DEA’s directive that waste management companies need to lend a hand, Averda submitted a risk management plan that outlined how they will deal with the hazardous waste and destroy the harmful pathogens.“In this instance, we will trench the listeria-contaminated food products with lime. This is because bacteria functionality is pH-dependent and the listeria bacterium remains functional at a pH approaching 10. The lime employed at Vlakfontein has a pH of 13,” says van den Berg.“Given listeriosis can only occur via ingestion, the only possible risk posed to humans from the landfilling of the waste is if bacteria leaches from the waste body and contaminates groundwater. Bacteria would be neutralised upon passing through the lime barrier,” he explains.“Vlakfontein is also one of two landfill sites in South Africa that has a 1.2 metre thick containment barrier consisting of HTP liners and compacted clay, which effectively prevents any contaminants from leaching into the ground,” adds van den Berg.Averda will also soak the waste in brine as an added safety precaution. The salt content of 15% will exceed the bacteria’s tolerance limit and kill it. Soil, air and water quality assessments will be conducted regularly to ensure that no pathogens have escaped.“To ensure our workers are protected, Vlakfontein is operated according to stringent ISO Occupational Health & Safety Standards. Facilities also have extensive security to protect members of the public, like waste pickers, who might try to access the sites,” states van den Berg.___Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment. ___By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries. ___Follow us Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for the best tips on recycling and the latest industry news. See our Instagram and YouTube channels for more insights into environmental affairs and our work with local communities.