Organics for the Future

Three leading organics waste organisations are chosen to join the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship South Africa Food Waste Innovation Challenge 2021 Ignite Programme.

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Doing waste in a whole different way

South Africans are no strangers to overcoming adversity and challenges, with the ability to rise from whatever is thrown their way, often becoming global role models.

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Zolani Mahola leads ocean activists in beach clean-up for Ocean’s Month as marine plastic pollution becomes serious issue

Eco-activists, personalities and conservation influencers came together for a beach clean-up at Muizenberg, Cape Town, last Friday, June 18, joining Corona’s international movement to fight marine plastic pollution in recognition of Ocean’s Month.

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Applying circular initiative to e-waste solutions

In order to tackle South Africa’s rising e-waste challenge, key local and international stakeholders have joined forces to launch an ambitious project which is set to bring about economic opportunities while ensuring workable and safe solutions for the management of e-waste.

Rooted in the global Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) programme (2020 – 2023), the local chapter of the SRI project aims to build capacity for sustainable e-waste recycling, by supporting related national initiatives and implementing pilot ventures. The SRI project in South Africa involves various stakeholders including The Appliance Bank (TAB), a training programme for unemployed men that gives them the technical skills needed to repair damaged and customer- returned small appliances.

In support of the circular economy, TAB prevents damaged appliances from being disposed of in landfills.

Job creator assisting in training

TAB came onboard to create training materials which will support the collaboration and help scale the intended impact of the SRI project in South Africa. The pilot project is kicking off in iLembe, KwaZulu-Natal which will see TAB working with waste pickers and providing technical appliance repair training.

Commenting on the initiative Tracey Gilmore, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of TAB says, “We are extremely excited to be onboard and honoured that the SRI team reached out to us to join the conversation and be part of this wonderful initiative. South Africa can only benefit from projects like the SRI that will create a more inclusive economy and contribute to sustainable growth.”

Bringing new opportunities for sustainable economic growth

The SRI project South Africa is part of the global SRI programme, with participation of Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Colombia and Peru. SRI aims at building capacity for sustainable e-waste recycling by supporting national initiatives and implementing pilot projects. The first phase of the SRI programme was implemented between 2013 – 2018 and is now in its second phase (2019 – 2023). The overall development objective of the SRI programme (Phase 2) is to create favourable framework conditions, which enables the development of a sustainable recycling industry for e-waste and any related waste streams.

In all its activities, the SRI programme strives for an inclusive approach of enabling beneficial economic conditions for both the formal industry stakeholders and the informal sector. Therefore, the programme leverages steps and strategies leading to both a resource preserving circular economy transition and contributing to actions on climate change mitigation through the recovery and reintegration of secondary raw materials into industrial processes.

The SRI programme is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) and is implemented by the Institute for Materials Science & Technology (Empa) and the World Resources Forum (WRF).

Key outcomes and deliverables envisaged for South Africa

The national SRI project team aims to develop an e-waste policy (on national and local level), define minimum working conditions for the formal e-waste value chain partners, and facilitate strategic informal sector integration. It will also assist with the development of both auditing skills and capacity to assess e-waste value chain operators and oversee the development of a national e-waste learner curriculum.

The pilot project in iLembe will see the team work with the informal waste sector to collect e-waste via a newly developed app.

South Africa among the most guilty of e-waste pollution on African continent

E-waste is the fastest-growing domestic waste stream in the world. According to the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWasa), each individual in South Africa generates about 6.2kg of e-waste and the Department of Environmental Affairs estimates an annual national tally of 360 000 tonnes. A technology economy study in 2014 revealed that more recycling of e-waste could bring notable benefits to South Africa. If the country manages to increase its recovery for recycling rates (currently hovering around 10%) up to 30%, it will yield an additional 32 million Rands per year injection into the weak South African economy.

One man’s waste is another man’s gold

TAB, which forms part of the award-winning non-profit organisation, The Clothing Bank (TCB), provides a two-year training programme for unemployed men to establish their own sustainable businesses. The men, most of whom are fathers, repair the donated household appliances and sell them for a profit in their communities.

Last year, TAB had 89 active businessmen who sold goods for a profit of R5,4 million and around 22 000 units / e-waste materials were recycled. Piloted in 2015 as a result of a strategic partnership with The Clicks Group, TAB has grown to have operations in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.

TAB provides beneficiaries with extensive financial, business and life-skills training, as well as coaching and mentoring to help them on their journey to self-determination. In 2018, the TAB programme formalised its technical training and developed a comprehensive modular-based curriculum covering all aspects related to electricity and appliance repair. “Apart from all the research learnings we will obtain from the SRI project, it provides an essential platform to build on our programme through improving our training material, continuing our contribution to improving our country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and aiding job creation,” concludes Gilmore.


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Minister Barbara Creecy on marine pollution

Marine litter is a matter of national and global concern says Minister Barbara Creecy

Marine litter, including plastic litter, has become a matter of increasing global and national concern as a source of marine pollution. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has therefore prioritised efforts to deal with the challenge of marine litter.

There is sufficient evidence that a large percentage of pollution in the ocean originates from sources on land. In response to this growing concern, the department has developed a “Source-to-Sea” initiative focusing on managing litter sources, mainly from upstream catchments where the litter gets transported to the ocean and coastal areas by rivers and tributaries that discharge into the ocean.

“The Source-to-Sea programme involves multiple government departments, at the national, provincial and local level, as well as the private sector and other stakeholders, working in priority catchment areas, and providing job opportunities through the Working for the Coast program,” said the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, on the occasion of observing World Oceans Day, on 8th June.

The main objective of the pilot project is to reduce the prevalence of marine litter by up-scaling efforts to capture and recover litter in these river systems. The project also aimed to monitor and characterize the litter recovered and to conduct schools and community awareness initiatives.

This year’s World Oceans Day is observed under the theme: “Ocean: Life and Livelihood.” World Ocean Day was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008 and is observed, since 2009, by all member states, including South Africa.

Marine litter primarily comes from towns and cities located along rivers and waterways, which become pathways for litter into the marine environment.

Minister Creecy also added that as part of the Presidency’s Employment Stimulus Initiative the Department is expanding the Source-to-Sea Programme into 16 coastal districts with the target of creating approximately 1 600 job opportunities. Planning is underway to commence this initiative in July 2021.

“As we grow our ocean economy, we also have to be cognisant of the impact of increasing human activity on the health of our oceans. It is essential that we manage our footprint and impact and put in place measures to protect our ocean and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity within the context of sustainable development. It is for this reason that South Africa’s Oceans Economy programme includes a specific priority and focus on marine protection and ocean governance,” said Minister Creecy.

Globally, plastic production has reached new highs, with over 320 million tons now being produced annually. It has been estimated that between 4 to 12 million tons of plastic are added to the oceans each year.

Our oceans are globally recognised as unique and a hotspot of marine biodiversity. The Atlantic, Southern and Indian Ocean’s fishing grounds are among the healthiest worldwide, and coastal tourism is, and has the potential to be a significant income earner for many African coastal nations. 




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How do people make paper out of trees, and why not use something else?

By Beverly Law

Paper is an important part of modern life. People use it in school, at work, to make artwork and books, to wrap presents and much more. Trees are the most common ingredient for paper these days, but people have been taking notes and creating artworks for a very long time using lots of other kinds of surfaces and materials.

Humans painted pictures on cave walls during the Ice Age. The oldest known drawing, found on a small rock in South Africa, was made 73,000 years ago.

Written language came a long time later. The Sumerians, in what is now Iraq, and the Egyptians used pictures in the first written languages more than 5,000 years ago.

These people etched cuneiform and hieroglyph pictures that formed their languages into rock. They also wrote on slabs of wet clay, using a pen or brush made from a reed. Sometimes they baked these slabs hard in ovens to preserve them.

Ancient Egyptian manuscript written and drawn on papyrus, dating to 1275 B.C. British Museum

The Egyptians pioneered the first paper. Papyrus came from a 15-foot-tall (4.5 meter) plant of the same name that grew in marshlands along the Nile River. They cut the stalk into thin strips, pressed them together and dried them into the long rolls you can now see preserved in museums. They wrote in ink, which didn’t smudge or blur on this new paper. Papyrus made it easy to carry their writing with them in rolled up scrolls – much easier than carting around heavy clay tablets and rocks.

Wood tablets covered in beeswax became a popular writing material in Greece, Rome and Egypt. Children used them in school as you might use notebooks today. Heating the wax made it easy to erase the writing and reuse the tablets.

Wax writing tablets from a Greek school ‘notebook’ used around 2,000 years ago. British Library

The Romans took the next step, making books with papyrus pages. Special manuscripts used pages made of treated calf skin.

In China, ancient writing materials included bone, bronze and wood. But then, a little more than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese invented a different kind of paper. Early on, it was made from the hemp plant, washed and soaked in water until it was soft. Then it was beaten into a gooey pulp with a wooden mallet and smoothed into a flat frame to dry.

It took Europeans another 800 years to finally start making paper. They cut up, soaked and treated linen and cotton rags. A half a century later, in 1690, the first rag-paper mill came to the American Colonies.

This human-made forest is planted with gum tree saplings that will eventually be harvested. ChrisVanLennepPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

But as people used more and more paper, rags grew scarce. There were more trees than rags, so trees became the raw material. The first U.S. newspaper that was printed on paper made from ground-up wood was the Jan. 14, 1863, edition of the Boston Weekly Journal.

So how do people make paper out of trees today? Loggers cut trees, load them onto trucks and bring them to mills. Machines slice off the bark, and big wood chippers chop the logs into small bits. Those chips are boiled into a soup that looks like toothpaste. To get out any lumps, it is smashed flat, dried and cut up into sheets of paper.

The entire process, from planting a seedling to buying your school notebook, takes a very long time. Just growing the trees takes 10 to 20 years.

Making tons of paper from trees can harm the planet. Humans cut down 80,000 to 160,000 trees around the world every day, and use many of them to make paper. Some of those trees come from tree farms. But loggers also cut down forests for paper, which means that animals and birds lose their homes.

Cutting forests down also contributes to climate change, and paper factories pollute the air. After you throw paper in the trash, a truck takes it to a dump, where it takes six to nine years to decompose.

That’s why recycling is important. It saves a lot of trees, slows climate change and helps protect endangered animals, birds and all creatures that rely on forests for their homes and food.

Did you know that it takes 24 trees to make one ton of paper, which is about 200,000 sheets? You may use a piece of paper one or two times, but it can be recycled five to seven times. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees. If it’s recycled seven times, it saves 117 trees.

So if paper isn’t good for the environment, why don’t people write on something else? The answer: They do. With computers, tablets and cellphones, people use much less paper than in the past. Maybe a day will come when we won’t use paper at all – or will save it for very special books and artworks.

Courtesy of The Conversation

  1. Beverly LawProfessor Emeritus of Global Change Biology and Terrestrial Systems Science, Oregon State University
Disclosure statement

Beverly Law does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Johannesburg is threatening to sideline informal waste pickers. Why this is a bad idea

Like all cities in the world, Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital, has a waste management problem. In 2018/19, more than 290 000 tons of waste was illegally dumped in neighbourhoods across the city. Illegal dumping will likely increase, as the four legal landfills will be full in less than three years. Various efforts have been made over the years to try and manage the problems better. A contentious, and politically sensitive issue in all of these efforts has been the role of waste reclaimers, the informal actors who earn a living by salvaging and selling recyclables.

Like their counterparts across the country, reclaimers in Johannesburg play a crucial role in waste management and recycling. According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, reclaimers collect 80%-90% of all used packaging and paper that is recycled. They also save municipalities up to R748 million a year in landfill space. Without them, South Africa’s recycling economy would not exist, and Johannesburg’s landfills would have closed long ago.

Pikitup, the private company created by the City to provide municipal waste management services, only started promoting recycling just over a decade ago. Instead of partnering with the real recycling experts, reclaimers, Pikitup designs charity-style projects for them and gives the official recycling work to unemployed people with no experience in the sector and private companies.

In mid-2018, Pikitup started a separation at source pilot project that pays two private companies to collect recyclables separated from trash by residents in some suburbs.

Now the city wants “affluent” households to pay a new R50 monthly recycling levy to extend the pilot.

But evidence from my three-year research project shows that Pikitup’s pilot has failed to collect significant amounts of recyclables. It has also been far from cost-effective. And it has profoundly negative consequences for reclaimers.

Unintended consequences

There are approximately 8000 reclaimers in Johannesburg. Some have been collecting recyclables for more than 30 years and there are families with several generations of reclaimers.

Working with 13 post-graduate students, my research project interviewed and surveyed reclaimers, residents and officials to see how they were affected by Pikitup’s recycling programmes between 2016 and 2019.

We found that Pikitup’s pilot had a number of negative consequences.

As the contracted companies started collecting the same materials that reclaimers depended on, reclaimers struggled to access recyclables, which decreased their incomes. It also led to increased harassment as reclaimers were accused by residents and security of “stealing” Pikitup’s bags.

The pilot also made life harder for reclaimers in other ways. They had to start sleeping in suburban parks to get to the materials before the private recycling trucks arrived, as otherwise there would be nothing to collect and their children would go hungry.

Poor track record

Pikitup’s approach to recycling has a poor track record.

In 2018/2019, the most recent year for which Pikitup has released complete data, Pikitup planned to collect 50 000 tonnesof recyclables. It then lowered the goal to 32 550 tonnes, but still missed this new target by about 6500 tonnes.

In the first 12 months of Pikitup’s separation at source pilot – which the levy is set to expand – an internal Pikitup presentation reported that Pikitup diverted only 27 277 tonnes of recyclables.

This is only a fraction of what reclaimers divert in a year. Data from a “resident-reclaimer” recycling pilot project led by the African Reclaimers Organisation in two Johannesburg suburbs shows that participating reclaimers collect an average of 128.18 kgs per day. If the City’s approximately 8000 reclaimers salvage similar amounts, they need a mere 27 days to divert as many tonnes of recyclables as Pikitup did in the first year of the City’s pilot.

While the companies in Pikitup’s pilot only collect bags of separated materials, reclaimers in the African Reclaimers Organisation pilot do the same, but also continue to salvage recyclables from rubbish bins. They do this because many residents still throw away recyclables. As a result, reclaimers provide a more effective service, because they ensure that recyclables that residents put in the trash don’t end up at landfills. And they do it for free.

Pikitup’s pilot has a number of inbuilt inefficiencies. For example, Pikitup pays the private contractors between approximately R20 – R25 per household per month to collect separated recyclables. The companies are paid even if a household does not put out a bag of recyclables or a reclaimer collects the bag. The reclaimer is not paid anything.

As Pikitup expands its pilot, the private companies will get the cleanest materials. More reclaimers will lose access to bins, and the recyclables in those bins will end up at landfills.

This is not just bad for reclaimers. It is bad for the environment as landfills will fill up faster and more virgin materials will be used to produce new products. While the companies use trucks to collect recyclables, reclaimers’ trolleys are a low carbon alternative.

A more sensible approach

It makes more sense to pay reclaimers to collect recyclables as is done in cities in ColombiaIndia, and Brazil. The African Reclaimers Organisation pilot has shown that reclaimers can provide an efficient, effective, low-carbon service that positively transforms relationships between residents and reclaimers.

Prior to the pandemic, reclaimers in this pilot were paid a service fee based on the kilograms of recyclables collected.

More than 2 400 residents have signed the African Reclaimers Organisation’s petition that calls on the municipality to stop the R50 levy and create a reclaimer-based recycling system through consultation with reclaimers.

It is time the city recognised reclaimers’ central role in Johannesburg’s recycling economy and work with reclaimers to build on what exists to create a recycling system appropriate for the South African context. Expanding African Reclaimers Organisation’s pilot would be a great way to start.

Courtesy: The Conversation

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SA could cut planned infrastructure budget by addressing billions of litres of wasted water

Water waste, leaks, and the use of drinking water for manufacturing is resulting in billions of litres of potable water going to waste, which – if addressed – could reduce the water infrastructure spend that is necessary.

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GET SWITCHED ON: introduces The Circular Economy Show

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Watch Gordon Brown, GreenEconomy.Media and Nolwazi Mbhele, environmental student, uncover the circular economy with Chris Whyte, African Circular Economy Network (ACEN)

Episode 1: Wednesday, 28 April at 1:00pm

Green economy literacy 1.01

  • What does circular economy mean, exactly?
  • How does the thinking overlap/dovetail with related topics like ‘recycling’, ‘zero waste’, ‘materials recovery’, ‘resource efficiency, etc?
  • Why has the term ‘circular economy’ become the leading terminology to describe the broad body of work and set of objectives?
  • Linear vs circular economy
  • Why a broad adoption of circular economy thinking makes business sense and will change the world

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Minister Barbara Creecy: World Circular Economy Forum and Climate, African Circular Economy Alliance

Address by Minister Barbara Creecy, Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Republic of South Africa – World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) + Climate, African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA)

Today is a unique opportunity to examine the ways in which circular economy initiatives are being mainstreamed and integrated throughout the African continent, as well as discussing the barriers, challenges and further steps to be taken in global and interregional cooperation.

The economies of the African continent have been severely affected by the global covid 19 pandemic and as we recover, we will have to use all  the innovative tools at our disposal in order to build back better. One of the important ways in which we can do this is by fully integrating circular economy initiatives into our nations’ recovery plans.

Ladies and gentlemen

At a country level, the circular economy is consistent with South Africa’s constitution, and our National Development plan both of which provide for environmental protection and sustainable use of our country’s natural resources.

Our country’s post-covid 19 Reconstruction and Recovery Plan includes a green economy component, which promotes waste recycling, renewable energy generation, revitalizing our ecotourism and forestry sectors; and retrofitting government buildings to improve climate resilience and save on water and energy consumption.

Last year, our government approved a revised National Waste Management Strategy which includes the implementation of circular economy practices. One of the main pillars of the strategy is waste minimization and the diversion of forty percent of waste from landfills within five years.

In consultation with industry and other role-players, we have published the Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations for the packaging, electronics and lighting sectors, for implementation, starting on the 5th May this year.  These regulations will establish producer responsibility schemes to lead in the reclaiming and recycling of waste in these three significant sectors.

A central focus of all our efforts has been to decrease plastic waste and enhance the recycling of plastics. This is in line with our commitment to reducing plastic waste in the environment and preventing this dangerous pollutant from entering our rivers and oceans.

Efforts here have spanned across the retail and fast food sector where we have seen significant initiatives by the Consumer Goods Council to eliminate single use plastics, promote changes in product design to facilitate recycling; and invest in R and D to promote new products made from plastic recyclate.

Government is also in the process of amending our plastic bag regulations. As a result, from the first of January this year, all plastic bags must be made of a minimum of 50% post-recyclate material, 75% recycled materials from the start of 2025, and must be comprised of 100% post-consumer recyclate by 2027.

These targets will be met by ensuring that post-consumer recyclate is made up of household, industrial and commercial waste diverted from landfills, thus further entrenching circularity in waste management and product development.

A key departure from the previous waste management strategy is the strategic shift to accommodate waste reclaimers and the informal sector, by addressing their role in the circular economy.

In many towns and cities in South Africa, waste reclaimers are important actors in diverting recyclable material from landfill. Investment here will be focused on the economies associated with transporting of recyclables to waste processing facilities, separation at source, and addressing the skills gaps within the sector. Central to our efforts is a commitment to ensuring we transition reclaimers from a precarious hand to mouth existence, to sustainable and dignified livelihoods.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to reflect, in closing, on circular economy initiatives on the continent.

The implementation of the Africa Green Stimulus Programme (AGSP) is at the forefront of the continent’s response to the economic downturn caused by the covid 19 pandemic. Central to this Programme are principles of the circular economy.

Africa is the first region to establish a regional forum for circular economy implementation. This is a significant development for a continent with a growing population and a large informal business sector.

There is a very high level of cooperation amongst the members of the ACEA, which is further strengthened by the fact that they are also members of African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) and members of the African Union.

Consequently, for both the AMCEN and the AU, the circular economy is high on the agenda. The first expert meeting on circular economy was held last year and work on the development of the AU Action Plan for Circular Economy has already begun.

South Africa and other members of the ACEA are also participants in a number of multilateral environmental agreements relating to the transboundary movement of waste and protection for the continent’s people from dumping of hazardous materials.

At a continental level, we want to see recycling growing  not only for effective waste management and resource use, but also  to help us in addressing our challenges relating to unemployment and economic recovery. Incorporating informal economy actors such as waste reclaimers and recyclers is crucial, particularly in areas where there is limited government waste management capacity.

However it is important to end by stressing that circularity cannot be successfully integrated into our economies without enhanced access to massively scaled-up support , investment and capacity building from developed nations. Collaboration between developed and developing countries is the only way in which we will be able to make meaningful interventions in the implementation of the circular economy.

Allow me to thank our important partners who are already taking up this challenge including the World Economy Forum (WEF), Partnership for Accelerating Circular Economy (PACE), African Circular Economy Network (ACEN), Government of Finland, African Development Bank (AfDB), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Environment Facility (GEF), European Union (EU), amongst others.

This spirit of collaboration and mutual support is necessary, and will be the key to the ways in which African nations navigate the post-covid 19 landscape.

I thank you.

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