Santie Gouws and Ursula van Eck, 2 South African women, neither having previous experience in the plastic recycling or waste management industry but with a shared vision of Plastic Free Rivers and Oceans, decided to put their heads together to work towards sustainable solutions to the plastic pollution problem in South Africa.
As co-founders and owners of Sunshine Cleaning their aim is to address plastic pollution within neighbourhoods adjacent to rivers and canals, to prevent such plastic from entering our river systems and ultimately reaching the ocean, where it harms marine, bird and aquatic life. Ultimately, we would like to see these canals and riverbanks restored and rejuvenated for the enjoyment of the communities who live there.
Spurred on by a very successful pilot clean-up and waste assessment on Mandela Day, Sunshine Cleaning decided to undertake a Deep-Clean along the banks of the same canal in Bluedowns on World Clean-Up day. We chose the Bluedowns canal banks for our cleaning work, because right here, in beautiful Cape Town en route to South Africa’s world famous winelands and mountain fynbos reserves in Stellenbosch, The Ocean Clean-up, a Netherlands based NPO, who design and develop technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, identified this waterway as one of the 1000 most polluted river/canal systems on the planet.
With ambitious plans to scale up the deep-clean significantly from the pilot event but limited (read zero!) budget, we had our work cut out but our drive and compelling enthusiasm to make the seemingly impossible, possible, seemingly touched everyone we approached.
An event like this cannot take place without community participation and we also wanted to test the concept of conducting a ‘competition-style’ clean up, where teams would compete for prizes for bringing in the most waste. We received the most generous support from Joan Mouton, Dawn Julies and the ladies from the Bluedowns Community Women Action, Correen Herman Clarke and Angela Pienaar from the Community Policing Forum and Neighbourhood Watch and PR Councillors Heynes and Simons. Together they were instrumental in mobilizing over 100 volunteers from within the community to partake in the Deep-Clean and identifying leaders who managed the logistics at each collection station and cheered their teams on. This contributed immensely not only to the success of the competition style format but also in bringing people from different areas of Bluedowns together, getting to know each other and turning the mundane and fairly nasty task of picking up rubbish and dirty nappies, into something to be enjoyed, celebrated and which the volunteers felt really proud to be part of.
EJ Sterley, Bornwell Monama and Vuyokazi Sivuthu from our key corporate sponsor, Enviroserv, who performed the waste assessment from Mandela day, immediately accepted the challenge sponsoring caps, sorting tables, teams of sorters for each of the 4 collection stations, bulk bags, bakkies, a flatbed truck to remove the recyclable waste and even a skip for non-recyclable waste. Enviroserv’s contribution enabled the waste to be efficiently sorted as it was collected during the morning and appropriately despatched to its next point in the waste value chain.
Our intensive research in getting to this point confirmed that sorting, cleaning, and processing recyclable waste is an expensive exercise. Just the slightest piece of sand or paper stuck on a piece of plastic prevents it from assimilating into a mix of molten plastic, and results in an unacceptable flaw in any new end-product. However, the same research connected us to Donald Thomson, Sadia Chand and Brett Jordaan of CRDC. CRDC have developed technology to cost effectively recycle contaminated (with sand and paper still stuck to it), mixed (saving sorting costs) plastic waste into an aggregate that can be used in cement blocks, kerbstones etc. CRDC have agreed to process 200kg of the recyclable portion of the waste collected from the Deep-Clean in their newly established pilot plant at Cape Concrete which we will in turn use in some new products – watch this space……
Key to our efforts of addressing the plastic pollution problem is the sustainability of the interventions we aim to implement in our target areas. To this end we had made a start with Enviroserv’s waste assessment, but we also wanted to be able to measure the impact our interventions are making, if any. Here we were contacted by Assetpool who offered us the opportunity to test their asset management app and software. Assetpool share our vision that the canal IS THE ASSET and we managed to conduct a trial at one of the sorting stations, collecting data and images of how much waste was collected from which section of the Deep-Clean area, in which time frame and tracking the recyclable portion of the waste collected. Utilising the asset management reporting tool of the app, we will be able to collect and compare the data and start being able to monitor and manage pollution along the canal banks in future as well as ultimately track waste collected to an end product.
As World Clean up day approached and the intensity of the emails, whatsapps, meetings and telephone conversations increased, we were blessed daily in receiving positive responses, as more sponsors came on board to support our cause and we (notable support from John Kiesser of PlasticsSA who personally delivered an ample supply of waste collection bags, T-shirts, litter tongs, water, bags, PnP vouchers and connected us with PolyCo who generously sponsored heavy duty gloves and T-shirts).
Amongst the organised chaos we even managed a radio interview with Pippa Hudson from Cape Talk.
After many sleepless nights, the day was upon us and logistics kicked into high gear. Once the station leaders were briefed and deployed to their allocated spots along 5km’s of the canal with their teams and supplies, collection started in earnest.
We were very pleased to welcome Mayco Member Marian Nieuwoudt and Senior Environmental Professional Natalie Newman from City of Cape Town’s Spatial Planning & Environment Department who witnessed the scale and nature of pollution in the area. We hope to partner with the CoCT to ensure continuation of future interventions.
Before we knew it the 12noon cut-off struck, prizes were awarded, Krispy Kreme doughnuts distributed, and the bulk bags were being loaded for despatch to their next point in the waste value chain. In just 2,5 hours, 120 volunteers collected 390 bags (estimated at 2 tonnes) of waste (excluding building rubble) from just a 5km stretch of the canal.
At the end of the day none of what was achieved would have been were it not for the people, all working together to turn the tide against pollution. Without the dedication and enthusiasm of the community and our sponsors, our ambitious plans would have remained on paper. Enthusiasm aside, we have come to realize just how immense the problem of plastic pollution is and how eye wateringly expensive it is to undertake Clean Ups such as these. For this reason we are actively investigating preventative measures like stormwater catchment devices, cctv cameras and educational interventions in the local schools, to ultimately prevent the need for costly Deep cleans. Now we have opened the opportunity for the community, CoCT and the private sector to engage and collaborate to find sustainable long term solutions not only for Bluedowns, but other communities living adjacent to rivers and canals to restore and rejuvenate these areas for the enjoyment of the communities who live there.
While the problem may seem insurmountable, the potential is huge. Amongst the litter indigenous Renosterveld Fynbos bulbs were flowering – just imagine the area revegetated, footpaths and benches lining the canal, birds amongst the fynbos, families enjoying the natural environment with the Hottentots Hollands Mountains and world famous Cape Winelands and Fynbos Biodiversity Hot Spots less than 15 km away.
In the words of Nelson Mandela – ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’
Grateful thanks to other sponsors & contributors to the success of the day not mentioned specifically
Craig de Wet of Bulkmatech arranged 2 Portaloos for the day and attended to several other logistical last second crisis at the drop of a hat.
S’innamon Media for the decadent 15 dozen freshly baked Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivered fresh on the day.
PETCO, MAN Family Wines, Lourensford and Spier all sponsored prizes
Premier Foods donated bread for sandwiches, collected and delivered to Bluedowns by Linda Campbell from IWMSA.
Gideon Naude attended to last minute graphics for our logo
Rod and Jeannine from Maxibin paid for the printing of our logo’d stickers.
Gerrit, Melani and Nelis from Power Construction contributed water and notepads.
Gideon Nel agreed to take photos as well as provide security and paramedic support on the day!!
David Shields GEM project – world cleanup day video clip
Helen Turnbull and Chris Eksteen from Cape Leopard Trust assisting with the Fltrashy Leopard sculpture competition for the schools