The quintessential three R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – have been given a makeover. ‘Rethink’ has been added to the popular slogan. The Department of Solid Waste Management, as part of its Waste Wise campaign, wanted to pay tribute to individuals who embody the ‘rethink’ motto.
On World Environment Day – Wednesday 5 June 2013 – the City of Cape Town hosted a certificate awards ceremony honouring the exceptional contributions made by its’ Waste Wise community facilitators and school educators. The Green Times spoke to some of the award recipients to discover what earned them this award their and aspirations for the future.
Mabel Abrahams (pictured, right) from Bonteheuwel, takes it upon herself to find solutions to the problems she encounters within her community.
Illegal dumping is a cause close to her heart. Upon discovering hazardous e-waste being dumped opposite a school in Bonteheuwel, she immediately reported the problem to her local councilor. By monitoring known dumping sites, she found a local takeout owner dumping potato peels. She recommended it be used on the compost heap at the Bonteheuwel Thusong Service Centre.
Taking to the streets to hand out flyers and spread information, she approaches anyone from “10 to 60 years old”. Her theory is that the community doesn’t do better, because they don’t know better.
Education brings inspiration
A survey conducted three years ago by fourth year medical students from UCT, found that most of the respondents didn’t know where recycling sites were located, what could be reused or recycled, proving that “it’s mostly people who are not educated that dumps”. According to Mabel, a follow-up survey conducted in 2012 has found the community “…more aware of what waste really is and brought about a behavioural change.”
Instead of handing out food parcels, Mabel suggested that physiotherapy students from UCT “do something more sustainable.” She recommended a food garden, but added, “a lack of space is not a prerequisite. Pots, tyres almost anything can serve as a start to a garden.” The students will soon be starting a pilot gardening project with seeds bought at their own expense.
For Mabel, the starting point of community upliftment should be their way of thinking. “You have a choice. You can say ‘I don’t have food so I will stand in the queue for parcels,’ or have a food garden that will be part of solving a problem.” Community gardens provide healthy food, money from the sale of vegetables, constructive use of time, and help the chronically ill: often times chronically ill patients report a lack of food as the reason for not being able to take their medication. Looking to the future, Mabel has targeted Plasform and asked “if I can get all their plastic and recyclables. Then I just need to find someone to sort the recyclables – that is my way of job creation.”
Turning waste into profit
Langa resident Thobeka Notshulwana heads a team of 14 members who collect empty bottles in the area. Refundable alcoholic beverage bottles are sold back to Distell, SAB and Brandhouse; cooldrink bottles to Coke. Payment is received twice monthly.
Thobeka explains that you need to apply in order to work with these companies in this manner. Once accepted, the applicant pays a deposit in order to receive crates, which is the only accepted method of returning bottles. How much difference could this actually make to the amount of waste in the community? Thobeka currently has 18 filled cases to return to Coke next week – that’s approximately 432 bottles.
The money earned is being saved to purchase a scale and baler to expand the scope of their work as they “hope to start our own recycling company”, which will service Langa and surrounds. The scale will be used to weigh recycling brought in by the community to pay them accordingly. A baler, costing about R7 000, will enable them to crush plastic bottles, making them weigh more and therefore sellable.
Sewing new life into old material
Mary-Anne Richards from Retreat combines her resources with her entrepreneurial spirit. Using fabric found amongst the community’s recycling together with her sewing machine and over-locker at home, she started making pillowcases.
“It is part of recycling, since the material was intended to be dumped”. The 11 ladies in her sewing group share the products amongst them “for our homes and to sell to family and friends.”
Her goal, which she says is close to being reached, is to turn her sewing group into a CMT (Cut, Make, Trim is a form of small business). She will approach companies that use fabric products, like bus companies who need seat covers. They also assist with the maintenance of a rubbish dump-turned-ornamental garden in Retreat, growing plants and vegetables.
Farieda Cornelius (above) beams with pride when talking about the work done by the people of Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain.
“I take off my hat to the community, who participates along with the school kids. Without the community, it wouldn’t be successful”, she says, referring to a recycling programme at Meadowridge Primary. Farieda drops black bags off at participants’ homes, who then collect plastic litter from their homes and around the community.
“My team and I collect the bags at their homes on a Wednesday, take it to the school and on a Thursday we sort the waste into the big recycling bags. We liaise with a company called Smythers who collects the recycling at the end of the month and pay us cash. The school does not want any of the money (in return for using their premises). They want it plowed back into the community, everything stays in the community.” The sense of community is so strong, says Faireda, because “many of us moved here together from District Six, and as a community facilitator for the past 20 years, I know everyone!”
It starts with you
Farieda has also started assisting a feeding scheme that cannot uphold servicing the food needs of children in the area.
“Vegetable prices are rising but people can’t go hungry. If you have vegetables you can make healthy food.”
Having trained with Soil for Life and with her circle members having pledged support, they will soon begin clearing an empty piece of land, if the relevant stakeholders agree.
“We’ll start planting as soon as possible and then the vegetables go back into the community.”
However, Farieda is quick to point out that this is not a handout, but a community effort. “We always complain that we don’t have this or that. But we must change our mindsets ourselves. It starts with you.”
Another Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain resident, Joan Julius (above) uses the respect she has earned as a community worker for 30 years to tackle illegal dumping in the area. “Illegal dumping in the community has always been a huge problem to me. I was so proud when this program (Waste Wise) launched and I’ve been privileged to be part of it.”
It wasn’t easy though, as she found community members were set in their ways.
“They were used to just throwing everything away, dumping. It was so hard, I almost got into fights over it!” she says, referring to stopping people who were pushing around “wheelie bins” (the black dirt bins provided by municipalities) and demanding to see what was in them.
“Regardless of their (sometimes) rude reactions, I would be firm. Eventually they understood me and now, they report to me when they see others dumping.”
She would go the perpetrators’ homes, asking them to pick up what they had dumped. She even threatened to report them, which would lead to fines. She wouldn’t have carried through with this threat though, since “they were neighbours after all and I didn’t want to act out of spite. None of us have money to pay fines. But just go pick up your waste.”
She told them about the nearest recycling centres, what could be recycled and what could be made out of the waste.
“Many days the bins don’t need to be as full as they are, but it’s the reusable things that are being unnecessarily thrown away.”
From illegal waste to gardens
The group that she works with makes crafts out of some of the items found amongst the waste. The reduced amount of illegal dumping has cleared the way for better land use. “It’s amazing to me how people have begun gardening on the empty spaces made available by stopping of illegal dumping. The very sites of the illegal dumping are now being beautified by volunteers that used to dump. Our land is so beautiful now.”
Keeping with the spirit of Lentegeur and its entrepreneurial women is Beatrice van Wyk. As part of a circle called Phenomenal Woman, she works with Lantana Primary who participates in the Collect-a-can project.
“Considering that most of our children attend that school, we as a community are helping the school by collecting cans on their behalf. Seeing as many cannot afford the school fees, we feel it’s the least we can do.”
They also turn ‘waste-to-art’. She gives a proud shout out to Maggie Meyer and Charmaine September, “two phenomenal women who are helping me teach woman to make items out of rubbish, like turning a coke bottle into a candle holder for décor.”
According to Beatrice, Charmaine takes the waste-to-art products back home to sell in Kimberley, where there is a market for items such as these. Additionally, “we also do door-to-door waste minimization education, focusing on the children, teaching them that litter such as sweet wrappers block drains and has other consequences for the Cape Flats”.
7. Percival Femela, a resident of Nyanga, started with his own education in environmental management in 2002, with a solid waste-related learnership with a grant in environmental management up to level five, which means “I am qualified to teach and facilitate in these matters.” He is currently involved in door-to-door education and awareness campaigns for residents to start recycling, composting and food gardening at home. In future, he hopes to facilitate workshops within the community.
“If the city is not able to help me, I will try on my own to start these workshops to educate on waste minimization and starting food gardens for a healthier lifestyle.”
Mareldia Hendricks (above) from Valhalla Park uses her creativity to turn waste into unique décor, recycling discarded tiles into floor mosaics inside her home. And it’s catching on.
“Other houses have been using broken tiles for mosaics because they saw mine.” When not going door-to-door with awareness campaigns, she holds cleanups to “get the community to clean up our own streets”.
According to Mareldia, recycling scrap is taking off. “The unemployed collect scraps to sell in order to provide food. Two or three houses in my street were able to lay cement in front of their houses with the money made from collecting scrap and selling it. Mindsets are changing.”
Emily Paulse from Beacon Valley, Mitchells Plain is part of a recycling project at Oval North High School. Her hope is that the project will be able to provide more jobs within the community. She personally keeps her eyes peeled for discarded clothing while clearing illegal dumping sites, repairing them at home before donating to the homeless.
“I want to serve the community by bringing an end to illegal dumping as it is hazardous and our children are constantly sick. I will never stop with the awareness. My heart is in this community.”
Local church adopts organic gardening project
Dawn Erenreich from Portlands, Mitchells Plain used her love of gardening to gather together a group of like-minded people to run a food garden where “we grow, we sow, we do everything organic in the garden.”
The local church she attends, Lux Mundi, adopted her project. They agreed that she would grow the crops to be used by the soup kitchen that they run, and the excess crops would go to the participants working in the food garden.
“The team is a group of (people who have) retired and (are) avid gardeners, mostly men.”
This joint venture ran for the past 2 years, but the soup kitchen has stopped for 2013. The gardening group has managed to keep their project running by signing an agreement with the Parks division of the City of Cape Town to utilise a plot next to the church, “which is launching soon!”
The Deputy Minister for Environmental Affairs Rejoice Mabudafhasi once said:
“Waste is wealth. Let’s work hard to make waste wealth and eradicate poverty through recycling waste. But we need many soldiers out there. Don’t just say government is not doing its work. When we keep South Africa clean, we are eradicating poverty.”
These soldiers within their respective communities are fighting the war on waste daily, with limited resources but an abundance of dedication, perseverance and creativity. While they hail from across the Cape, they share common beliefs. They don’t believe in handouts, they favour ‘we’ over ‘I’ and where many see waste, they see an opportunity to make a difference.
By Tanya Wagner