Ian Dommisse, 31, is inspired both to combat litter and to educate the community. In his hometown of Port Elizabeth, he explains that weeks can go by without garbage collection. Stray dogs rummage around, tearing open refuse bags, and the city’s notorious wind compounds the problem by stirring up the smell. It’s too far gone to encourage any action: in fact, people add to the problem by littering. “Environmental awareness and infrastructure is just not a priority compared to South Africa’s poverty and inequality,” he offers in response to government’s apparent disinterest in tackling the issue.
Ian started EcoBrick Exchange with four partners. It’s a campaign that encourages recycling – to make an EcoBrick you need a two litre plastic bottle filled with plastic waste (about a large refuse bag’s worth), which is then compressed with a wooden spoon until
little air is left between the contents. But, in addition to producing sustainable “bricks”, the initiative is focused on impactful social
activity: EcoBricks are made at social events for the community, where friends and contacts can be made, and bricks can be exchanged for desirables like toys or much-needed basic skills. At the last EcoBrick party over 300 bricks were made.
EcoBrick Exchange is also improving the conditions of township schools. In 2014 they started to rebuild Penguins Play and Learn
Centre in Walmer Township in Port Elizabeth and they hope to maintain a strong relationship with the learners through social events and activities.
Ian and his team won R150 000 from the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, as well as some funding from the United Nations. These contributions have helped to keep their project growing and building, brick by change-making brick.
- What are you most passionate about?
Gardening (food forests), upcycling, environmental conservation.
- What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Quitting my day job (twice … )
- What makes you angry?
When people hide behind their complacency to justify in-action/laziness: ‘what difference would it really make if I recycled?’
When people try find fault with social enterprises so as to feel okay about the fact that they aren’t doing anything.
- If you inherited an acre of land what would you do with it?
I’d implement a permaculture garden with an Earthship (TM) house in the centre.
- Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?
- How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Eight (if you count my multiple gardening shoes).
- If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
I would make Korma chicken (the night before so it just needs to be warmed up – it matures well) together with a starter of roasted nut and champaign salad (picked from the back garden obvs).
- How would people communicate in a perfect world?
Through life size holograms which are emitted from the reflection of permaculture garden ponds.
- What do you work toward in your free time?
Refining the business model of the social enterprise that I run (EBE).
- If you woke up and had 300 unread emails and could only answer 30 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer?
I would respond first to the ones that were sent to me only (as a single recipient).
- Name 3 things in nature you find most beautiful.
Jungles with multiple canopies, black water mountain pools surrounded by soft-edge boulders, ravines and gorges with fragrant trees and lily invested streams.
- Have you used plastic bags for your shopping in the last two weeks?
I mostly use material bags but sometimes I repurpose plastic ones (I have a habit of folding them into neat triangles).
- What would you say are some small steps that people can take to improve their relationship to the environment?
- To make ecobricks,
- Build/buy a worm farm to get the best of your organic food waste (excluding acidic and meat products),
- Buy a bokashi bin for all kinds of food waste (including acidic and meat products),
- Find the closest recycling station/school that accepts recycling to where you live.
And just like that – you’ll be living a Zero Waste Life!
The benefits? You’ll be able to cancel your municipal collection service – saving you R720 per year; your garden will become fertile; you’ll be creating a low cost building material; you’ll never have to deal with taking out maggot infested bin bags.