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Singspiels keep the streets clean in South Africa

Photo: COWI

In the Umgungundlovu district, South Africa, large parts of the district has no formal waste collection services. In these areas the streets are littered with garbage, causing serious health problems for the residents. COWI is working with the local community to improve the waste management system, thereby providing better health conditions for the district's inhabitants.

In the unserviced areas of the Umgungundlovu district, waste gets dumped everywhere. Everything from plastic bottles to large car parts is dumped openly. Combined with inadequate access to sanitation services and poor urban conditions, the improper disposal of waste is causing major health concerns in the area.

To help the district cope with the amounts of waste and its consequences, a team of waste management specialists from COWI has joined forces with the local community in the task of introducing more sustainable waste management solutions. Already now, there is much informal recycling happening as well as recycling cooperatives in actions. These efforts and more will help create a better environment, less waste to landfills and more employment in the green economy.

Using local insight

In order for the project to succeed, the local community must be involved in this important issue. Therefore, the COWI team is considering many different ways to engage with communities. One ways is through using singspiels, which are a great part of the region's storytelling tradition and often include important morals similar to those that many remember from childhood fable stories.

"Our experience from other projects in South Africa and neighbouring countries is that the audience pays close attention to a singspiel, and that makes it a powerful tool when we want to reach out to the public, especially the less affluent parts of the community, about waste management," states Torben Kristiansen, Vice President, Solid Waste Management, and continues:

"We have excellent local consultants on the team. Many of the people assigned to this project have a great deal of local insight, and they understand the situation. This insight and our international standards are the main reasons why COWI got the job."

Supporting the livelihood of waste pickers

One of the major concerns is the future of the local waste pickers, who make a living collecting reusable items and selling them to recycling companies.

"If we try to reorganise the waste management system and maybe have it sorted at recycling facilities, we will need to come up with an alternative for the waste pickers", states Project Manager Andrik Mols.

"The authorities know this and have actually monitored waste pickers and are considering ways to increase the employment of waste pickers in recycling facilities and throughout the value chain of recycling, in support of better and increased livelihood for the waste pickers who are most often at the landfills, work the hardest, and are the most skilled at picking out stuff to recycle", he concludes.  

No home, no payment

Another challenge to the project is the many unregistered persons and homes as well as the lack of proper payment systems. Consequently, collection services are running at a loss, rendering it important to set up an efficient registration system for households and introduce proper management of payment.

The increasing of public awareness and acceptance of waste collection services and the need to also pay for such services is therefore particularly important for the long-term sustainability of improved waste management in the district. Hence, a wealth of changes need to be made. Changes are always difficult but are easier to overcome if accepted well by the residents.


By Karen Øksnebjerg
Published 18.09.2014 

LAST UPDATED: 16.09.2016