Durban – A ray of sunshine is coming through the dark clouds that rain litter on to Durban.
In a settlement of about 20 000 people living in RDP houses and shacks in Briardene, on the inland-looking side of the same hill as Umgeni Park and Durban North, energetic Siphiwe Rakgabale is organising recycling of waste and managing litter booms in the Mgeni River for the Green Corridors eco-tourism body.
His venture, Tri Eco Tours, buys recyclable waste from pickers he calls “eco champs”.
One, in Briardene, is Treasure Mtetwa (spelling correct – no h), who has created a recycling depot beside a spontaneously-created informal garbage that clogs up a stormwater drain on the highest road in the settlement, with a view of rooftops leading down to bustling Chris Hani Road.
“We don’t even collect 50% of the waste produced,” Mtetwa told the Independent on Saturday.
The most abundant recyclable litter he extracts – glass bottles – are an indicator of alcohol consumption, he said.
However, their monetary value is less than polyethylene terephthalate (PEC) bottles that, at least, float and have a second chance of being caught in a litter boom down the river before they end up in the sea and beach-bound journey driven by rain. Plastic bottle tops have special value, an idea being to get schools to help hand them and, in return, receive the clipboards made from them.
Then there’s cardboard and aluminium from tin cans.
Polystyrene, a curse to marine life once it enters the sea, can have a second life, made into picture frames, notes Mtetwa, who is also an artist.
“Nowadays, with the new contractors, (the city) is servicing us on a weekly basis. In the past few weeks, I have seen people cleaning the roads, which is good. I think there has been an improvement,” said Rakgabale, crediting local councillor Shontel de Boer.
“She has been doing a lot of work in the community.”
But in between, the litter gathers. There’s enough of it in the top boundary road to accommodate three depots. When the litter clogs up the stormwater drains, it floods and becomes impassable.
Rakgabale also hopes to get an “eco champs” scheme going at the Quarry informal settlement on the other side of the Mgeni.
“Education about waste is needed here,” stressed Mtetwa.
Then there’s awareness, in general, that is needed about waste pickers, said Rakgabale.
“It would be good if they could have three-wheel bikes and identity cards and for people (in the suburbs) to know them by name.
“Often recyclers are mistaken for thieves, so we want them to have identification, so it’s clear we know it’s them.”
Mtwetwa recalled how his not being known once cost him the opportunity to collect a gold mine of plastic bottles that had accumulated behind a factory after having fallen down a slope from an informal settlement.
“For me, to get inside and collect, there was an issue. Who’s my manager? (the factory management wanted to know) Where do I come from?
“I felt so small.”
Looking uphill, away from the settlement and into the greenery above his recycling depot, Mtetwa spoke of his hopes to make it a safe place for children to collect mangoes from the trees, as he did growing up in Briardene, without fear of cutting themselves on broken glass and other nasties that come with litter.
“There could also be jungle gyms,” said the father of two.
Meanwhile, the plastic producer responsibility organisation, Petco, with its collection partners Tri-Eco, Re-purpose and Green Corridors, overshot its post-flood PET plastic collection target with a total of eight tons collected and transported to recyclers for processing.
Petco CEO Cheri Scholtz said it was thanks to strategic and entrenched partnerships that campaigns such as this were successful and made a real difference in affected communities.
“For 17 years, Petco has grown the collection and recycling of PET bottles while supporting their environmental and social objectives,” said Scholtz.
“Our key objective is to keep packaging out of the environment where it does not belong and to help build cleaner communities.”
Speaking on the clean-up, president of The Coca-Cola Foundation, Saadia Madsbjerg, which injected R5 million into flood relief in KZN, said: “We are glad that the much-needed recovery is underway, and we are happy to continue to support the resilient efforts of the KZN community to get back on its feet.”
The Independent on Saturday