South Africa: the growing problem of plastic pollution in Johannesburg

Johannesburg’s landfills are full of plastic waste.

The city’s largest landfill located in the Turffontein area is a hive of activity as garbage trucks arrive to deposit their deposits.

Despite a 2018 decision by South Africa’s most populous city requiring residents to separate waste from the source, few care.

Informal waste pickers rummage through trash cans in the hope of finding something valuable.

They try to salvage a variety of materials ranging from plastic, cardboard, bottles and wood before they are flattened.

Many of them are registered on the city’s database but some are undocumented foreigners operating informally to sell their collection to recycling companies.

For many, it is their only source of income to support their families.

Pikitup provides waste management services to the City of Johannesburg.

Muzi Mkhwanazi, spokesperson for Pikitup explains the problem of plastic waste left in landfills.

“Plastic is not biodegradable like other types of waste streams like wood and these materials. So it lives a very, very long time. Now, if you compact it, it eats (takes up space) in the air space of our landfill. It is difficult to compact, It becomes a nuisance when there is wind on nearby or adjacent properties around this landfill. Then we get complaints from people. It also goes into our sewage streams that end up in the sea, contaminating the waterways, killing the fish in the sea. You know, it’s a real, real, real problem.”

Whole Earth Recycling offers a service to local residents, collect all your various recycling in a dedicated plastic bag and they sort them for you in a recycling center.

Carmen Jordaan, head of Whole Earth Recycling, says informal recycling in landfills poses health risks for pickers.

“If we can stop using non-recyclable plastics in our packaging materials and encourage more people to start recycling, we will have a better recycling rate. Although there is sorting that takes place at the landfill , it is not ideal because it is mixed with food waste, medical waste and which is not hygienic”.

This week, a conference in the town of Gqeberha, South Africa, will discuss how to pressure governments and big business to commit to reducing plastic production and waste, because it harms to the continent’s environment.

According to the organizers, the “Towards Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa” will bring together the best decision makers in the plastics value chain on the continent.

The conference follows the United Nations Environmental Assembly resolution to develop a legally binding treaty on plastic waste by 2024.

Waste activist Musa Chamane says the conference is needed to pressure policy makers to tackle the problem.

“They (the conferences) make a difference because it’s a platform where we get to express our ideas and the industries are there; civil society is there and the governments are there, we’re all in one room. So if we push and say they have to make sure they reduce the amount of plastic they produce, and they even go so far as to have an international treaty to make sure they phase out plastics in the It’s a good thing they’re thinking about it because some countries have already banned plastic, like single-use plastics,” Chamane said.

A 2018 research report by the UN and the Center for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa estimated that Africa had an average waste collection rate of 55% and only 4% of it was recycled.

This falls short of the African Union’s target for municipalities on the continent to recycle at least 50% of their waste by next year.

The conference is organized by the African Marine Litter Network of the Sustainable Seas Trust from 23-27 May.

Bryce K. Locke