The Heroes of Zero Waste

Zero waste

Nelson Mandela said, “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country.” And when it comes to South Africa’s waste revolution this rings truer than ever. As the custodians of our future leaders, schools play a pivotal role in breaking the habitual throw away culture that has filled our landfills to the brim. However, schools themselves generate significant amounts of waste every month. The Greater Tygerberg Partnership (GTP) in collaboration with Western Cape Education Department, Plant the Seed, Waste-ed, DF Malan Highschool, Welwitschia Primary School and Bellville South Primary School have designed and implemented a Zero Waste project to educate learners on the importance of sustainable waste management. 

The Zero Waste School project is a replicable, scalable waste-reduction programme that provides schools with a toolkit to reduce waste sent to landfills and to recycle more effectively. It aims to educate staff and learners on how to design better waste management systems, and challenges them to be more responsible about their waste practices.

What started as a project to reduce ‘waste to landfill’ in 2019 has rapidly become an education-based system piloted at DF Malan High School with over 1 000 learners and 90 staff members. 

“We didn’t make any big infrastructure changes, but we focused rather on changing the mindsets of learners. It was important for us to remind them that not only did they need to, but also that they could, take individual action,” said the headmaster of DF Malan High School, Sias Conradie.

The process begins by conducting a waste audit at each school to determine the amount and types of waste each school produces in one full week. Then the GTP calculates the number of bins needed for each type of waste. Once all rubbish bins have been replaced with a system of labelled bins, learners are encouraged to separate paper/cardboard, plastic, glass/metals and food as they throw them away in bins around the school. For non-recyclable materials, eco-bricking stations are provided – the eco-bricks can later be used for building furniture, garden walls and other structures around the school. 

Once the bin systems are installed the GTP also assists the schools in educating their pupils on the importance and correct use of the system with educational posters, four detailed planned lessons on waste education and additional workshops with teachers and students. GTP has partnered with top recyclers that collect the recyclables from the school once the depot bins are full. 

Each school is fitted with a compost depot for food waste and a waste to resource depot. In the case of DF Malan High, the project began to generate immediate results and within three months DF Malan High had reduced its waste sent to landfills by 50% and by the end of 2019, that had increased to 60%. Not to mention saving around R3 000 per month in waste removal costs and earning up to R6 000 a year in recycling loads!

“The intention is that the successful school pay it forward to others, especially those in low-income areas, deploying the toolkit to help other schools achieve the same or even better results,” says CEO of the GTP Warren Hewitt.   

At Welwitschia Primary students produced 357 kg of waste in one full week, which is more than 1 ton of waste going to landfill each month. From the 1 428kg of waste produced each month, 720kg (50,4%) can be recycled and 48kg (3,4%) can be turned into compost and the remaining 660kg (46,2%) non-recyclable waste can be used as eco-bricks.

“South Africa has 26 000 schools. If this project has the capability of being rolled out to each one, that could make a significant impact on the country’s waste footprint,” says Hewitt of the GTP. 

Due to its high level of sustainability after the initial investment, the project is scalable, replicable, and produces easily measurable outcomes, making it attractive far beyond the schools to businesses, university campuses, student residences, office blocks and potentially even hospitals.

The remarkable results of this project would not have been possible without the generous investment of R50 000 by the Western Cape Education Department and the intellectual investment of experts in waste education Plant the Seed. It is the dream of the GTP that over the course of 2022, this programme will be extended into schools such as Essenhout Primary School in Delft and Elnor Primary School in Elsies River, and other schools in low-income areas.

The GTP is committed to working closely with the City of Cape Town, fostering effective partnerships with community groups and residents, and establishing a spirit of openness, inclusion and capacity building. This project is one of many exciting projects and collaborations to be spearheaded by the GTP. 

zero waste

Bellville South Primary School – The Zero Waste School!

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