Post-Covid-19, there will be more pressure on governments, NGO’s, and the private sector to drive small economies in local communities. With an expected rise in unemployment, a bi-product of the forced global lockdowns, new ways to derive incomes are going to be key for survival, and especially in the poorer communities in South Africa.
Green Corridors, the NPO which has developed “green” spaces and programmes around eThekwini Municipality communities with the aim to help them thrive in balance with the habitats around them, hopes that some of its programmes will pave the way for communities to access economic opportunities that work hand-in-hand with environmental solutions.
In 2018 Green Corridors began developing innovations to meet the needs of the many urban environmental challenges such as litter and waste collection, and its removal, and repurpose, while at the same time developing a model for the process to be community managed for the creation of small localized economies.
The KwaMashu Materials Beneficiation Centre is one of the NPO’s pilot programmes that speaks to a solution to the challenge.
Here a small community team works together with technical consultant project manager Jonathan Welch, to find solutions to how waste from various sources can be repurposed and monetized. This process means waste is removed, and economic opportunities created for local communities, and the ecosystems around them have the potential to improve and thrive.
According to Welch, much of our waste is not recyclable in traditional ways, however over a few years with development input by Duncan Doo of the Pyrolysis Group, Green Corridors is poised to begin manufacturing what is being called the “Ocean Paver”. This uses unrecyclable plastic waste that is collected from litter booms in the tributaries of the Umgeni River, which is mixed with crushed glass bottles collected within the communities, and made into square pavers for walkways similar to concrete pavers used in landscaping and driveways.
The litter booms, which are rubber “booms” slung across rivers, gather plastic and floating waste, stopping tons of plastic waste and trash being washed into the sea. The collection of this waste provides economic opportunities for communities to work. Once collected and sorted this waste is then used at the Beneficiation Centre.
Welch explains that the KwaMashu Materials Beneficiation Centre is much like a “laboratory” in that is looks at how resources can be used – whether these are man-made or natural or waste.
“Importantly we see how these can benefit both the environment and community. We are now piloting a programme of how these waste removal and repurposing processes can be funnelled into creating employment for communities and provide revenue streams.”
Another project which has been developed at the Centre includes using waste grass and cuttings from the City’s Parks and Recreation Department to create Bokashi (anaerobic ie non CO2 releasing decomposition) compost which can then be used in community vegetable gardens/ schools /by the City for use in parks and green spaces.
The Centre is also using fibre harvested from invasive alien plants and combining it with concrete to make green pavers. In March the team successfully experimented using builders’ rubble encased in welded wire cages to make a gabion retaining wall, which can be used to stop erosion or create stability of slopes.
“A simple skill of creating supporting gabions from waste with little financial requirements output, may be able to provide unemployed people with work opportunities.”
“These are small steps to look at what resources can be used to solve the many environmental challenges the City faces, but central to the success of this is community involvement so that revenue streams can be created to allow for an organic development of economic opportunities for people,” says Welch.
“The programme has been funded and supported by the eThekwini Municipality’s Economic Development Unit and the Roads and Stormwater Department as one of the endeavours to remove plastic waste from the City’s rivers and to create a circular economy by turning the plastic and glass waste into a product with value,” explains Gary Cullen, Project Manager in the Economic Development Unit.
“Tests have been done by the Municipality’s Engineering Unit, and they established that our glass and plastic Ocean Paver is twice the strength, resistant to chipping and slightly lighter than an equivalent concrete paving slab.”
“The next phase of the project is to begin the manufacturing of the paver to assess the economic feasibility and whether we can put the Ocean Paver into the market at a price competitive with concrete pavers,” says Welch.
“This involves a somewhat complicated value chain model where the waste is sourced and directed ultimately to numerous, geographically spread small production businesses with a guaranteed product uptake, which we are investigating. Assuming this model can be proved successful it can be shared via other Municipalities as a sustainable solution to taking waste out of the environment, diverting it from landfill and creating new sustainable small businesses that create much needed economic activity and jobs.”
Photography by Val Adamson.