Having met the requirements of South Africa’s environmental regulations, AfriSam is proudly moving beyond compliance toward a more sustainable future.
As the first cement manufacturer in southern Africa to publish an environmental policy – as early as 1994 – environmental concerns are a central mandate for the management team, according to Nivashni Govender, environmental specialist at AfriSam.
“We consider ourselves as leaders in this field within the cement and construction materials sector, as it has been our focus since the early 1990s,” says Govender. “Our prioritisation of people, planet and performance is now a personal commitment for each employee in their area of work.”
This highlights that, with government regulation becoming steadily more stringent, AfriSam has now identified that four of the 10 most high risk Acts governing the company’s compliance relate to the environment.”
These four Acts – the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the National Water Act, the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act and the National Environmental Management Waste Act – have provided the framework against which AfriSam has been continuously improving its environment-related performance, she says.
“With the commitment from as high up as board level, we will be increasing our environmental awareness levels within the business this year,” she says. “This supports not only the senior and middle management levels who drive environmental compliance, but also is important in raising awareness among all employees.”
Water is a key focus for the company across its cement, readymix and aggregate divisions, she highlights. At the cement operations, considerable water volumes are required for dust suppression and other purposes – so rainwater is collected and stored in sumps, as well as in the mining areas. This is used to meet many of the plant requirements, to the extent that the Ulco plant near Barkly West in the Northern Cape, does not rely on municipal water supply. Drawing a limited volume from the Vaal River, the operation treats water for its own use, including potable water, thus reducing reliance on the already stressed municipal system.
“The same principles apply at our aggregate operations, where the aim is to reduce any consumption from municipal sources, thereby easing pressure on their resources,” says Govender.
At the readymix operations, water is extensively reused and recycled. Among the most water intensive activities is the cleaning out and washing of concrete residue from the inside of concrete mixer drums after product is delivered. This water is channelled and stored in lined settlement facilities, and is then reused in the batching process of making concrete.
“It is also vital for us to monitor water quality at our cement and aggregate plants, so we conduct monthly testing on all applicable waterpoints,” she says. “By applying certain parameters for identifying chemicals through SANAS accredited laboratories, we are able to pick up any signs of pollution timeously and respond accordingly.”
It is also important to have all stormwater facilities in good working order, to maintain the separation of clean and dirty water. AfriSam has invested heavily over the years in the implementation of stormwater plans for its cement and aggregate facilities.
As part of the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and put the brakes on climate change, AfriSam has taken a number of approaches over the past 20 years to reducing its carbon footprint. These range from the development of composite (or extended) cements to ongoing energy-efficiency initiatives at its cement plants.
The company has for many years been a leader – along with other local industry players – in the development of composite cements. These cements contain not only clinker but other cementitious materials such as fly ash from power stations and ground granulated blast-furnace slag (GGBS) from steel-making plants. The scientific usage of these products into AfriSam’s cement significantly enhances the performance of the resulting concrete without compromising on quality.
“In addition to essentially re-using waste products from other industries, this process also reduces the amounts of limestone that we have to mine and clinker we have to produce, again reducing carbon emissions from those processes, as well as reducing waste to landfill,” she says. “We are constantly searching for new extenders and additives to further reduce our carbon footprint and our impact on the environment as a whole.”
At the cement plants themselves, AfriSam is busy with a five-year emission reduction programme to upgrade various key items of equipment. This will reduce emissions in alignment with the minimum emission requirements as contained in Section 21 of the NEM: Air Quality Act.
Concern with air quality extends beyond point source emissions from stacks, to the management of fugitive dust created at the company’s operations. In the cement and aggregate quarries, dust fallout monitoring has been conducted for many years. Levels of dust fall-out are checked on a monthly basis, and can now be usefully analysed and trended to better understand how levels change according to the seasons and onsite activities.
“Our monitoring efforts over the years have generated sufficient data to now allow us to proactively identify activities that contribute to increase in dust fallout, such as the windy season between August and October,” she says. “We can then implement more intensive management measures during this particular period, such as increased dust suppression on haul roads and on stockpiles.”
Dust fallout monitoring is not legally required at readymix sites currently, but AfriSam conducts this proactive monitoring nonetheless, with a particular focus on determining the potential environmental effects the operations may have on surrounding areas.
Govender emphasises that the company has established more aggressive recycling targets for this year, encouraging all operations to increase their reuse and recycling of general waste and thereby reducing the amount of waste destined for landfill.
“At the readymix sites, for instance, unused concrete that is returned from construction sites is taken to the nearest AfriSam quarry to be recrushed and re-used at a later stage,” she says. “This recycled aggregate and crushed cementitious material can then – in consultation with the customer – be used to augment aggregate orders.”
She notes that this process reduces the amount of aggregate that needs to be mined and crushed, saving energy and reducing associated dust and carbon emissions. It also removes unsightly waste concrete from the surface environment and again reduces waste to landfill.
In terms of AfriSam’s 2021 roadmap, all company operations are steadily rehabilitating a portion of their disturbed footprint, part of an overall effort to reintroduce biodiversity to mined out areas and return these areas to a self-sustaining landform. The biodiversity management plan implemented a few years ago supports this effort.
“Environmental stewardship is today an integral part of any responsible business, representing the seriousness with which we view our role as custodians of our fragile planet on behalf of future generations,” says Govender.