At least 70 people were killed in KwaZulu-Natal during the floods last week.
 Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng African News Agency (ANA)
At least 70 people were killed in KwaZulu-Natal during the floods last week.
 Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng African News Agency (ANA)

UWC-based initiative exploring how to clean up SA's filthy cities

By Staff Writer Time of article published May 2, 2019

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Cape Town – Images of the aftermath of the floods in KwaZulu-Natal, which claimed the lives of at least 70 people, show not only the scale of the disaster, but also the urgent need to do something about towns becoming increasingly filthy.

Among the measures the government is putting in place in this regard is research intended to provide information on how to deal with the country’s littering and illegal dumping problems.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), with support from the Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African Local Government Association, focused the 2018/19 research grant call under the Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap (Waste RDI Roadmap) on projects aimed at providing insight into why South Africans litter and dump waste illegally.

The Waste RDI Roadmap is a DST-funded programme implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Grants were awarded for two large, multi-year research projects, starting in January this year.

These projects are aligned with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Good Green Deeds campaign, which is aimed at cleaning up South Africa. First announced in September last year, the campaign was launched by Ramaphosa in the Eastern Cape in March.

The first research project has been awarded to Professor Catherina Schenck, the new SA Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) 1 Research Chair in Waste and Society, which is based at the University of the Western Cape.

In partnership with other South African universities, Schenck will explore the root causes of increasingly filthy towns and cities, and the infrastructure needed to keep them clean, as well as possible approaches that could be adopted to keep urban areas cleaner, and what these would cost municipalities.

The second project, awarded to Anton Nahman, the principal researcher at the CSIR, will evaluate the root causes of the price difference between landfilling and alternative waste management options, and instruments that the government might use to encourage municipalities to divert waste away from landfills.

The output will be a decision-support tool to help the government.

“Littering and illegal dumping are causing significant environmental and social impacts in South Africa,” said Professor Linda Godfrey, the manager of the Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit at the CSIR.

Plastic waste leaks into land and water resources, destroying ecosystems and food sources. Water often accumulates in dumped waste, increasing the risk of cholera, malaria and typhoid in communities. 

Waste can also block drains and watercourses. Windblown litter may be ingested by animals or cause entanglement, strangulation, suffocation or starvation, affecting the environment and the economy.

Cleaning up litter and illegally dumped waste costs South African municipalities hundreds of millions of rand every year - money that could be directed into socio-economically productive activities, including recycling, informal sector support and improved waste collection.

“South Africans need to change their attitude and behaviour. It starts with each one of us,” said DST director of environmental technologies and services Dr Henry Roman.

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