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Waste: sorted…or is it?

On a recent field trip, WWF staffers visited a variety of waste and recycling facilities in the Cape Peninsula to find out what is being done to solve the waste problem. We learnt a few salutary lessons along the way.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
One of the more valuable commodities in the recycling chain is aluminium cans but this isn’t true of all recyclables.
Separate at source

The Coastal Park Waste Landfill Site near Strandfontein is one of only two active landfill sites in the City of Cape Town (the other is Vissershok). This was our first stop and where we were met by senior superintendent Shaheed Kannemeyer who reminded us that there is no magical “away” when it comes to disposing of your rubbish.

This site is busy – with around 500 to 600 trucks passing through its gates on a daily basis, some of them bringing garden waste and building materials to the drop-off facility.

Shaheed told us that once your bin is emptied into the municipal truck, the rubbish is compacted and no further sorting takes place so what you put in it will end up in landfill.

My take away here? Separate at source. If you can, compost food and garden waste. Make sure your recyclables get to a recycling centre (take them yourself, use a service provider or give them to your neighbourhood waste pickers). That way you will be helping to reduce the growing mountains of waste in our world – particularly as we are rapidly running out of landfill space.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
At a buy-back centre in Stellenbosch, goods such as plastic bottles and waste are packaged together for recycling.
If there’s no market, there’s no money

On the outskirts of Stellenbosch, we visited a buy-back centre where informal waste pickers (those people you see wheeling trolleys of waste through the streets on bin day) sell the materials they collect every day.

Each morning, between 200 and 300 people turn up here with something to sell – hoping to pocket as little as R80 for their efforts. There are thousands of similar centres across South Africa but it’s a precarious existence. The price of recyclables can fluctuate dramatically, depending on supply and demand, and what might be desirable today may have no value tomorrow if there’s no market for them.

© WWF South Africa/Andrea Weiss
These piles of waste are destined for landfill. Even though sent to a recycling centre, they can't be reused.
Refuse, reduce, reuse…

On our last stop, we visited the Kraaifontein Material Recovery Facility, the only large municipal facility of its kind in Cape Town. This facility is managed by a private company called Wasteplan which processes some 1500 tonnes of recyclable waste a month, about 20% of which is plastic.

They employ 250 people on a “production” line to separate out items like office white paper, tins, plastic bags and cardboard.

Even so, at least 12% of all this material is still destined for landfill because it simply cannot be recycled. These items are put onto a conveyer belt that delivers them to a huge warehouse of “tailings” made up of everything from discarded pet-food packaging to plastic clamshells you might recognise from your last takeaway lunch.

These piles of rotting rubbish are of no use to anyone even though somebody thought they were recyclable.

It was a timely reminder of the mantra: Refuse, reduce, reuse…and then recycle.

Andrea Weiss Photo
Andrea Weiss, Media Manager

Andrea Weiss is learning how to lighten her footprint through better waste management.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle

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