6 steps to reduce, reuse and recycle

South Africa is experiencing a waste crisis which should be given immediate attention. Picture: Shirley Hirst/Pixabay

South Africa is experiencing a waste crisis which should be given immediate attention. Picture: Shirley Hirst/Pixabay

Published May 19, 2021


South Africa is experiencing a waste crisis which should be given immediate attention.

In February 2019, only two municipalities in the entire country could legally continue using their landfill as there was still airspace available, the rest have legally reached their capacity and should not be taking in more waste.

Everything we do influences the environment and people around us and how we dispose of waste needs to be reconsidered.

We all would have learned about the three R’s in primary school: reduce, reuse, recycle. There is a good reason that they appear in that order.

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As individuals, we need to look at reducing our impact on this planet in every way possible. Every decision we make, no matter how small, has an impact. It is up to you whether that impact is negative or positive.

Here are a few tips on how to start:

1. Use reusable shopping bags

An estimated one trillion single-use plastic bags are used per year worldwide, close to 2 million every minute. Plastic recycling in South Africa is appalling with less than 10% recycled annually. Most of the plastic that is recycled is beverage grade bottles such as the 2-litre soft drink bottles and other plastics of a similar type.

Plastic shopping bags are rarely recycled as they tend to get stuck in machines during the recycling process, because of this, companies are reluctant to accept them. It's best to buy a few good quality fabric or long-life plastic shopping bags and leave them in your car or add them to the top of your shopping list.

2. Carry your own reusable coffee cup

UK-based environmental website GreenMatch reported that 16 billion paper coffee cups are used every year. To make these, 6.5 million trees were cut down, 4 billion gallons of water and enough energy to power 54,000 homes was used in processing. It is wastage that can be avoided by carrying your own reusable coffee cup or mug in your bag or your car.

3. Carry a reusable water bottle

More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016, an increase of 300 billion in ten years. A June 2017 report in The Guardian found that 1.2 million plastic bottles will be sold every minute by 2021 with 500 million being sold annually by 2030. This is absolutely insane! We can drink the tap water in most major cities in South Africa. Get a glass or a BPA-Free plastic bottle and refill with tap water or get a few 5-litre bottles and get some filtered water at a local refill station.

4. Practice minimalistic purchasing

Food packaging provides a safe, cheap and reliable way to store and transport food from factories to stores and then to our homes. The downside is that most food packaging is single-use and are made using low-grade plastics that are currently not worth the recycling process in South Africa.

It may be difficult to adapt to this so it would be best to start by making small changes such as buying fresh fruits and veggies from a farmers’ market where there is no packaging or taking your own bags to grocery stores instead of using plastic packets that are provided. Some grocery store brands offer refill stations where you can stock up on dried beans, fruits, nuts and seeds instead of buying them pre-packaged. Cutting down on junk food would help reduce your overall packaging waste and make you healthier as well!

5. Say NO to single-use straws and cutlery

Plastic spoons, forks, straws and polystyrene and plastic takeaway containers are all amazingly convenient and handy when we only have time for a quick noodle salad, but these single-use items do not just go away when we toss them in the bin. US-based Plastic Pollution Coalition says that single-use plastics from takeaway outlets are a primary contributor to the 269 000 tons of plastic pollution swept into waterways and oceans every year.

These plastics will break down in the ocean, be consumed by fish and other wildlife and eventually make it back onto our dinner plates. Carry your own containers, cutlery sets and straws in your car or handbag. Insist on paper or cardboard packaging from your local takeaway.

6. Compost your food scraps

“South Africa sees some 10-million tonnes of food at a cost of more than R61.5-billion go to landfills each year. The twelfth goal of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to reduce global food waste by 50% by 2030” says Rowan Le Roux of the Branson Centre Zero Waste & Circular Economy Advisory Board.

Most of this food waste can be composted in your very own garden, reducing the amount going to landfills. If you have the time, get a small composter starter kit that comes with worms and soil, if time is scarce, just dig a small hole at the back of your garden, cover it with a secure, weighted lid and just toss your fruit and veggie scraps in there, the soil will do the rest. There are hundreds of composting guides online, choose one that suits your and give it a go!

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