The impact of our waste disposal as South Africans is a bit like our use of drinking water or processed meats - unless there is a major drought or listeria outbreak we don't think about it. If you do think about your waste you might consider the impact on environmental protection. What if we told you your household waste is impacting the landlessness and cycle of poverty in South Africa? Whether your heartstrings are attached more to the wellbeing of people, the environment or the economy, the impact of our waste in South Africa, specifically our household waste, will make you cringe.
Why Our Waste Impact Is Bigger Than Just Environmental Protection
Where does your household waste come from?
In the last 20 years, our waste per capita in cities has doubled in South Africa. Our city populations have also increased drastically, with the equivalent of the entire population of Cape Town moving from rural areas into urban areas. Access to income and shops is better in urban areas. When we buy more, more frequently, we create more waste. It is in the metros and urban areas, where the convenience of waste management has made waste, like running water, a routine part of our lives that we no longer give a thought to.
Our food and groceries: the biggest impact of our waste
Nowhere is the increase of waste in our lifestyles more apparent than in our grocery stores. Less than 20 years ago daily groceries were bought from the family-run corner store, the bread came freshly baked and packaged in brown paper bags, meat came from the butcher and veg came loose from the market. If you went on a journey you took food for the road, convenience food did not exist - we cooked! Reusable cloth nappies were the norm and we bought in bulk, as much as possible. With all these changes it is no surprise we generate up to 3kgs of waste per person, per day!
What really happens to your waste?
The household waste we generate creates a heap of challenges which are becoming increasingly difficult to manage. There are many things we can do at home to help the environment. To manage these waste challenges municipalities need to continuously spend 100's of millions of rands setting up and running new landfills. South Africa has some of the best landfills in the world! Surprised and impressed? Us to! Scientist travel from far and wide to visit some of South Africas high tech landfills. But even world-class landfills are far from eco-friendly. If you would like to know more about some of South Africa's top landfills have a look at our blog post What Really Happens To Your Waste. But regardless of how good a landfill is, once land has been used for landfill, it is too dangerous and unstable to ever be used for development of any sort FOR LIFETIMES (Give that a few seconds to sink in). With waste exploding at the current rate, landfills are filling up, and closing, up to 15 years ahead of their original planned lifespans. More and more landfills are needed every year, which means more and more land.
Why the impact of your waste is more than environmental protection
In a South African city like Durban, with approximately 3.6 million people, the municipality estimates Durban’s housing backlog at 400 000 units. Considering an average family size of 4, that equates to 1.6 million people. 45% of the population of the city have no permanent housing, live in informal settlements or in buildings confirmed unsuitable for human inhabitations. This is not vastly different in other metros. No one disputes the need for housing across South Africa is critical.
South Africa’s biggest natural ecosystem is grasslands. According to the Endangered Wildlife Trusts report on the status of South African Grasslands 60% of all our grasslands have been completely destroyed. The remaining grasslands are home to 44% of South Africa's endemic land mammals (found nowhere else in the world), 22% of all South African reptiles, 33% of all our threatened butterflies and 72% of all our threatened bird species. Our grasslands also contain our major river catchments. Without these grassland river catchment areas the volume and quality of the water in the rivers would be severely impacted. The need to conserve grasslands is critical.