I grew up in a house where recycling was part of our daily routine. We separated our plastics and paper and tins in three bins in the backyard and we had a great service that came to pick up the recycling in its blue bags every week.
Recycling wasn’t more a chore than anything else in the house and you knew you were helping to make a difference to the environment in your little way.
That was in Pretoria and since moving to Johannesburg we’ve really been struggling with recycling and in many ways, it’s made me very sad. Joburg is a very dirty city, as most big metropolitan cities are. The difference here though, is the lack of “want” from the public, private and government sides to actually do something about the filth.
If you’re reading this from any other country but South Africa you need to know that we don’t have street cleaners like you do in many cities overseas (looking at you beautiful Berlin). We have garbage disposal that strike for weeks on end and boy do we waste.
I started doing some research on how much waste we make in South Africa and I was honestly shocked by the lack of data I could find. Every second article about recycling quoted a report by the World Bank, however this report was done in 2012 and only had input from the City of Cape Town on its finding. I eventually found one other report from the Department of Environmental Affairs, however this one was also from 2012. Nothing has been recorded regarding our waste in South Africa since then it seems (and if anyone can find more information please let me know!) and knowing this makes me sick to my stomach.
According to these reports in 2011 South Africa was already generating 108 million tons of waste per year (yes million tons) and 98 million tons of this was disposed of on landfills. Only 10% of this waste was recycled in 2011, yes 10%. And that was 6 years ago…
As a developing country, I know and understand the struggle and we won’t be anywhere near the 1% of waste that Norway sends to their landfills anytime soon. But, the lack of data on our waste generation paints a picture of a country and a government that does not care about what we are doing to this planet.
Article upon article states how “easy it is” to recycle and how people who don’t recycle are “just lazy”, but very few actually talk about what to do with your recycling, after doing the hard work of keeping everything separate in your bins. And this is where people stumble and finally give up on recycling, especially in Johannesburg.
As I mentioned, in Pretoria we had a great service that came to pick up our recycling on specific days at home. Services like these do exist in Joburg and we tried out one called Whole Earth last year, but unfortunately, they are not foolproof and don’t work out that well for those of us living in flats and complexes.
It only cost R65 a month (in 2016), but our experience was when we lived in Craighall Park in a quiet street which was very residential, it worked great. We simply put the bag outside every week and someone came to pick it up (our new blue bags were “picked up” by strangers walking past though). The moment we moved to Illovo, which is a less residential area with flats and businesses interspersed, the dynamic changed completely.
Because the road we live on now is busier, the bag would very rarely stay closed long enough for the service to come pick it up and when we left the bag inside the gate with the guard, they simply “forgot” to ask and didn’t pick it up.
This is a very big problem as most young people living in big cities live in areas such as these and in flats because it’s cheaper and closer to their jobs. Its only normal that living in these areas also include people scavenging for things in the trash, its reality. So why do these pick-up services not want to accommodate these areas and people better?
The habit of recycling should start when you are young and move into your first home, but these supposed wonderful pick-up recycling services are leaving a sour taste in our mouths which will put off many young people from recycling forever.
For now, we are driving to the nearest Pikit Up Garden Centre. There are quite a few around Joburg but they are quite hidden so you’ll have to search for your closest one. Upon face value, they seem ok and have a system when you get there. You also don’t have to separate your recycling, which is great and makes it easier. Unfortunately, we all know Pikit Ups reputation so we will have to test it out for a while and see how it goes. Will keep you posted…
Unfortunately, I don’t have the solution to the lack of proper recycling options in Johannesburg, but I know there has to be one out there. A company willing to really make the act of getting rid of your recycling easier for people living in non-suburb areas. Someone who realises that recycling is not just for the rich and for older people with families. Come on Joburg, I know we can find the solution…