The case for less waste

The lowdown on our waste:

  • Each day in Cape Town, 6 000 tons of waste are produced – between 1,7 and 2 kg of waste per resident
  • Of household waste alone, it is estimated that high-income households are responsible for the majority of waste – approximately 2 kg per person each day, with low-income homes only generating 1,5 kg of waste per person each day
  • Every year in the Western Cape, enough waste is thrown away to fill a row of trucks equalling the distance from Cape Town to Gauteng – that is about 1 200 kilometres!

source: Fairest Cape Association, 4th edition

View the Waste and recyclers map

Making the case for less waste

Waste is costly. The earth is a closed system. Any nutrients and resources being taken out of the system (and buried in a landfill, or burnt) are resources lost to us. Aesthetically, waste causes various forms of pollution, from land to water pollution, to blocked drains caused by littering.

Waste in Cape Town gets collected, disposed of and/or recycled via our drop-off facility or Athlone Refuse Transfer Station. The waste we put out in bins from our homes each week is really just the tip of the iceberg.

For every product you use each day, such as paper, clothing or food, substantial waste has been generated in the making of the product. It is estimated that as much as 90% of the materials used in the manufacture of a product become waste almost immediately.

Less waste means that we really need to think about what and how much we really need to consume.

  • To produce one ton of paper, 100 tons of water are used
  • For every litre of beer you drink, 10 litres of water have been used in the fermenting process
  • Producing one cellphone requires 75 kg of resources
  • A toothbrush requires 1,5 kg of resources – coal, oil and water – for its production

The recycling cycle

Waste that cannot be recycled gets landfilled. Recyclable waste materials recovered from refuse and saved from landfilling are taken by various people (yourself, collectors or small entrepreneurs) to central collection sites.

These drop-off centres are run by contractors in partnership with the City. In some areas you may find a buy-back centre which will pay collectors for material. Unless serious quantities can be collected, this money is usually very little and the activity remains largely within the informal sector. In some areas you may fnd a buy-back centre who will pay collectors for their material.

Well-sorted and baled (bundled) materials fetch higher prices. Prices differ depending on the material and the market demand. Generally, the most valuable recyclable materials are: steel, copper, aluminium, brass, mercury and zinc from appliances, light fixtures, cladding, fashes, plumbing, wiring and structural materials.

Find out more about:

Cape Town's recycling initiatives, drop-offs and companies that collect recycling 


Green guide to recycling

Zero waste – making the conceptual leap

Many suggest that recycling of waste, while possibly an important interim measure, is simply being less bad, or trying to make a bad system more efficient.

Recycling offers the recapture of small amounts of smashed up materials. It is inefficient and difficult as the products are not designed for reuse. The best that recycling has to offer is the destruction of products after one use (through smashing, chopping, grinding, etc. at a notable cost in resources, particularly water and energy) and laborious recapture of only the bare materials.

The ZERO WASTE strategy calls for a totally new approach to the design of products and the methods of production.

The zero waste strategy suggests that we look to nature for inspiration. Take the example of ants. All the ants on the planet together have a greater biomass than humans. Although they have been industrious for millions of years, their productivity nourishes plants, animals and soil. Human industry in the past hundred years alone, by contrast, has seen a decline in the health of all the ecosystems on the planet.

source: SMART Living Handbook

Great read:

Cradle to Cradle 
Get the book

Other waste topics

Waste and recyclers map
Reduce, reuse, recycle
What you can, and can't, recycle
Hazardous waste (chemicals, batteries & CFLs)
Start a compost heap or worm bin
Safe, alternative cleaning products
Dealing with creepy crawlies naturally

Go green home