Communities Field Note

Waste management in Cape Town, South Africa  


Waste in South Africa is considered as any substance that can’t be reused, recycled, or recovered and thrown away. Each person in South Africa creates between 0.5 & 2kg of waste a day. This amounts to 2 full trash bins per week in a household  (DEAT, 2005).  To address the issue of waste in South Africa there are some cool programs that actually reward people for their trash. The ‘Trash Back’ programs encourage communities to take pride in their local environment and are rewarded for it[1]. How cool is that? Read more to learn about these cool programs.

IntroductionHow do nations meet their communities’ needs? 

There are many needs here in South Africa. Although waste management is not seen as a pressing issue, there are certain initiatives in place to address it. I think that the best way for a nation to address the waste management needs of communities is through creative and innovative new ideas. These ideas shairkah 1ould incorporate the people of the community so that they can have an active role in bettering their home.

A really cool initiative that I found is called the ‘Trash Back’ program. The Trash Back program is “a social enterprise that changes apathy into action through an altered perception of waste” ( Current perceptions of waste fail to highlight the importance of recycling. At the center of the Trash Back’s program is the great emphasis they place on recycling. The name of their incentive based recycling program is Uphinda-phino. This is a Xhosa word for repeat. This project gives incentives to disadvantaged poor communities that may be deeply affected by waste.

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The benefits of this incentive based recycling program in disadvantaged communities is that it “reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills overtime, aids In providing cleaner communities for people to live and fosters a great sense of pride and dignity in the inhabitants of that community, a cleaner community results in an overall healthier community for the people and it provides jobs for people in the community” (  Instead of simply providing a solution to the problem ‘Trash Back’ is enabling the community of Imizamo Yethu to be a part of the solution.

What community need did I learn about?

I had the opportunity to visit the township of Imizamo Yethu where the Trash Back program is located. Imizamo Yethu is a township in Hout Bay South Africa. There is very little space for all the people living in the communities. There are very little toilets and a proper sewage system for the residents of the community. There have out houses where as much as ten families may share. There is a river called the Disa River that runs through the community and the river is infested with e-coli bacteria.

There are also high rates of unemployment and poverty in this community. In efforts to raise money for the community, they host tours for tourists in hope that they will donate to the community. There were also some houses where people sell their own home made beer, different paintings and traditional crafts to provide for their families.

Is this need being met? How?

The Trash Back program is a way of meeting one of the many needs of the Imizamo Yethu community. Participants from the community of Imizamo Yethu bring their recyclable materials to the trash back center and they are then rewarded with a voucher. The voucher can be used at local community stores to buy food, clothing and other necessities. The vouchers are a way of making sure that participants are being rewarded with items that are beneficial to them. Because the vouchers can only be redeemed at local community stores this keeps the money made in Imizamo Yethu in the community by investing in local businesses. This will add to the wealth of the community in the long run.akirah 2

So far, there are over 590 participants in the trash back program. To date, a total of 37,032 kg of waste has been collected and R25, 238 have been rewarded to participants in the community ( Over time, this program has the ability to really make a big impact on the cleanliness of the Imizamo Yethu community.




Fast Facts about waste management in South Africa

1. Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so, is it easy for people to access?

In Rondebosch, where I live, there are very little places to recycle. If I want to recycle I have to take my recyclables to campus at the University of Cape Town. I was very surprised that the town did not mandate recycling.

2. What is the public sentiment about the state of the environment, and do young people think they play a role in protecting the environment? If so, how?

I think that the public sentiment about the state of the environment changes in accordance to which part of Cape Town you are in. The suburban neighborhoods are really neat and well kept up while the neighboring townships that lack resources are polluted with an abundance of trash.

3. What innovative solutions do you observe, or hear people talking about?

The most innovative solution to this problem was the Trash Back program that I visited in the informal township of Imizamo Yethu.

4. Have there been changes to environmental laws lately, or have new systems of solid waste management been introduced in the past five years?

Yes, there have been changes to environmental laws lately. The most recent one that I found was the National Environmental Management Waste Act, which was passed in 2008. This act moved to adopt waste hierarchy as an approach to waste management[1].  This hierarchy places a greater emphasis on reducing the amount of waste in South Africa right now as opposed to in the future when people are more concerned with disposing of it.

  • Trash cans located on public streets: yes
  • Individual homes recycle trash: no
  • Grocery stores charge money for plastic bags: yes
  • Grocery items are heavily packaged with plastic: no
  • People drink tap water: yes

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