Durban: Powered by waste

An interesting case study from Sustainable Cities on Durban, how South Africa’s future waste treatment could change the CO2 footprint of our cities while generating jobs and business opportunities:

South Africa causes 50 % of green house gas emissions on the entire African continent. Imagine Durban is a vision and a process about mobilizing and re-defining every sector of Durban City – from government to non-government, from civil society, NGOs, institutions – to business organizations and common people. The aim is to encourage all parties to imagine where they want to be in the future – the image making process has begun – and the changes already show in the city of Durban.

Generating energy from waste
The Durban Metropolitan Council is actively involved in promoting integrated waste management for the metropolitan area. This includes promoting recycling and waste management, identifying safe sites for future land disposal and improving management of existing landfilled sites. The new Durban Metropolitan Environmental Policy sets out a range of objectives to address the city’s waste issues in the future. This is supported by new national and provincial policies which promote an integrated approach to waste management. There are a wide range of recycling initiatives taking place in the Durban Metropolitan Area (DMA). Recycling on a large scale, without the assistance of a subsidy for instance, is only sustainable if it is economically viable.

In a study undertaken to determine the level of domestic recycling in the DMA it was found that low income groups practiced recycling as a means of job creation and generation of income. Low to middle income groups displayed complacency and many lacked any interest in recycling. The middle to upper income groups practiced recycling out of concern for the environment and as part of fund raising efforts. It was also found that provision of additional accessible collection centers, as well as information and education programmes help promote recycling. Informal recycling takes place on many landfill sites through the activities of waste pickers. This is the sole source of income for many people, but poses a potential health and safety risk to those concerned.

By improving the existing recycling system, the collectors, and by supporting pioneering technologies in waste management the City of Durban currently prevent about 21 tons of methan gas from escaping. By transforming the methan gas derived from the waste into electricity and thereby transferring it thorugh the existing electricity grid to the city it now supply approximately 5000-6000 low-income households in Durban City with electricity per day. The pioneering waste management and recycling system has also resulted in a mayor CO2-emission reduction that help slowing climate change on a local, national and global scale. In the long term the green landfilled sites and the effecient waste management system will help improving the airquality and the quality of life for the citizens of Durban and South Africa.

Buy-back waste-centres
At the Bisasar Road landfill site, over R 66,000 (worth of recyclables about 260,000 kilograms) are retrieved each month by between 300-400 waste collectors. This represents 0.5% of the total waste stream disposed of at the site. It is estimated that these collectors represent in the region of 200 families who earn a total of R300 a month per family. Multi material buy-back centres are in operation in the Durban area, run by various private recycling companies with support of Durban Solid Waste. These centres attract the informal collectors of recyclables who sell their items to the centres for a better price than is being paid by agents of formal recycling companies.

Consequently the waste is now turning into something that the waste collectors – representing the low-income group now earn from. Studies on the viability of the buy-back centres indicate that R 5,000 per month can be generated at each centre, if run competently.This is calculated to provide R 30 to R 50 per collector per day. The profit from the recyclables sold is used to pay entrepreneurs to run the centre. Yet suitable locations are still needed. It is important that the recycle centres are located in areas which are easily accessible to the people involved in the operation, primarily the collectors. But also places where more formal businesses exist, and where there are high levels of traffic and transport systems.

Read more details in the side bars on Sustainable Sites

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