A ground-breaking project led by the groundWork, Durban University of Technology’s (DUT) Urban Futures Centre and Asiye eTafuleni aims to improve waste management practices in and around Durban's Warwick Junction Markets, reverse urban decay and reinvigorate this historic and thriving part of the city.
The 3-year project titled The Urban Informality, Waste Management and Climate Change: Innovative Zero-Waste Solutions from the Informal Street Markets of Warwick in Durban started at the beginning of 2021 and aims to co-create a zero-waste to landfill case study situated in the informal markets found in Warwick Junction in the city of Durban.
The project focuses specifically on how informal workers such as street vendors, market traders and waste pickers in African marketplaces could provide innovative zero-waste models for cities across the continent and internationally.
The project is designed with three interlinked components; building connectivity and capacity, participatory research, and mainstreaming alternative ideas on waste management and climate change.
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The project will focus on organic waste as this is a significant portion of waste generated in the area. The pilot project focuses on the Early Morning Market and ways to compost organic waste at its source to avoid tons of this choking landfills around Durban.
Three organisations, the DUT Urban Futures Centre, groundwork (gW) and Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) have partnered up to manage the project which addresses key aspects of environmental justice and climate change solutions.
The project also speaks to important aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which work toward sustainable cities and communities, responsible production and consumption, climate action and the nurturing of partnerships.
Other stakeholders include the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Green Africa Youth Organisation (GAYO), Nipe Fagio and Instituto Polis with funding provided by the Urban Movement Incubator.
A 2021 study from GAIA found that cities which invested in zero waste programs and policies were able to create sustainable, green jobs, in addition to known benefits of reducing pollution and improving community health.
The study projects that if Durban were to recover 80% of recyclable and organic material in its waste stream, the city could create over 4 000 new jobs while keeping streets clean. I asked Asiphile Khanyile, Waste Campaigner, at groundWork, to tell us more about the initiative and the organisations involved.
groundWork (gW) is a non-profit environmental justice and development organisation to improve the quality of life for vulnerable people in South Africa and Africa through various partnerships.
They also aid civil society to strengthen environmental governance and have been working closely with waste pickers through the South African Waste Pickers Association.
“Through these established connections,” Khanyile says, “groundWork plays a vital role in mobilising and organising waste pickers participation in the project as well as contributing to research and knowledge exchange whilst connecting the project to national and international activists, academics and civil society.”
The DUT Urban Futures Centre (UFC) is a multidisciplinary research centre at the university with extensive experience in social justice projects in the city and participatory action research.
Khanyile said that “the UFC is responsible for research and the African Waste Management Learning Hub, a virtual space for stakeholders to connect, share ideas, resources and knowledge with partners around the globe. Through the university, the UFC links the project to academics, scholars and social activists in the local and international academia.”
Asiye eTafuleni is a non-profit organisation that collaborates with allied professionals, informal traders and street vendors to improve the quality of life and business of informal traders.
“Working toward supporting sustainable livelihoods, Asiye eTafuleni is strategically based at the Warwick markets and has over 11 years of experience mobilising and organising informal market traders and street vendors to partake in research and knowledge exchange,” Khanyile explained.
The goal of the Warwick Zero Waste Project is to create an easy to replicate, zero waste to landfill case study for large informal markets commonly found in Africa.
The project will use existing case studies from other parts of the world as a working reference.
According to groundWork, the Warwick Triangle and its various markets and public transport hubs are an extremely important part of the city seeing an average of 400 000 people cross through it every weekday. Khanyile says that the “project is strategically situated in the Markets of Warwick, one Africa's busiest socio-economic hubs. This makes it extremely suitable for research and participation of informal workers to address climate change issues.”
“The project aims to demonstrate that the concept of zero waste is socially, economically and environmentally viable. It is also achievable at a local level with high levels of informality which is common throughout Africa.”
The project will play a vital role in diverting waste from landfill sites which also contributes toward the reduction of greenhouse gasses emitted from generation to disposal of waste.
The project will also focus on the separation of waste at the source and the creation of sustainable, “green“ jobs.
Khanyile outlines the several benefits for informal workers around Durban. These include “progressively establishing important connections and capacity building through the education of informal traders and street vendors beyond their usual scope of work such as waste management systems and climate change.
The project fosters active participation from all stakeholders to create a blueprint of what zero-waste could look like in a Durban perspective.”
The Urban Futures Centre said in a media release that “one of the key objectives of the project is to connect, strengthen, build knowledge and expand networks of informal workers, activists, government, academia and civil society in Africa and globally.”
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