Getting wiser with plastics

Langvlei rubbish traps in Retreat.

A new strategy of co-operation has been established in which adjoining areas of Muizenberg and Lakeside are going to be systematically cleaned and stringently monitored. The inter-linking waterways are for the first time being viewed as a whole – and treated that way – by all stakeholders.

These stakeholders include the City of Cape Town, complete with interdepartmental communication, the Muizenberg Improvement District, the Muizenberg Lakeside Ratepayers’ Association and Zandvlei Trust.

Ward councillor Aimee Kuhl explains: “The City of Cape Town was chosen by the Rockefeller Foundation to take part in the 100 Resilient City Initiative. Alongside cities such as Chicago, Bangkok and Accra we are pushing for a whole new sustainability strategy in our Mother City.

She said: “Sitting on the sustainably and resilience portfolio which is championing this, I am keenly aware of how tons of plastic waste end up in our water bodies and oceans. Any initiative that encourages consumers to become active citizens to reduce the amount of plastic they buy and throw away is close to my heart.”

Ms Kuhl has been supporting Waste Free local co-ops and beach clean-ups throughout the year. “In times of drought our waterways are the lifeblood of our communities. We have for decades been treating them as an afterthought. Our thinking needs to fundamentally shift. Only through creating awareness and the courage to change the status quo will we jointly be able to tackle this actually outrageous man made problem.”

Also involved in regular clean-ups are Environmental Warriors and the Muizenberg Partnership.

Kevin Rack is the spokesperson for the plastic clean-up, from his dual positions on the board of the Muizenberg Improvement District and the Muizenberg Lakeside Ratepayers’ Association; and as a long-time resident of the area.

He explained that in the past, different organisations were independently trying to clean their own areas, with little success.

At the picnic spots at Zandvlei for instance, one section of the land is looked after by Sports and Recreation, another by Solid Waste.

A plan has now been formulated so that each department and organisation knows where the boundaries are, what is needed, and are working together in a greater effort to protect the environment.

The collaboration has also resulted in a call to businesses and residents to foster a stewardship of the area: where those who benefit or profit from a resource, become its keepers.

“Ideally we will see a change in consciousness as surfers, sailors, fishermen, scouts and surf schools, as well as beach goers, learn to take care of the resource that brings them such joy,” Mr Rack said.

“We want to make Muizenberg plastic-free, so future generations can live healthily and enjoy nature’s abundant beauty; as I did as child,” he said.

He said it was only through active citizenship and the kind of collaboration between Council, stakeholders and civic organisations such as this, that enduring change can be made.

“Where we – the consumers – spend our money, can we reverse the massive damage of plastic and Styrofoam pollution in the eco-system,” he said.

Mr Rack volunteers many hours a week digging trapped plastic waste out of the canals and Zandvlei estuary. Why is he so concerned? “Because 330 million tons of plastic are produced a year – of which only 8% is recycled,” he said. Because plastic bottles can only be recycled six times, and because 480 billion plastic bottles are sold globally. “Coke is the leader, at 110 billion bottles a year,” he said.

And because he personally digs these filthy discarded bottles and plastic bags out of the vlei himself, he knows first-hand, the level of the problem.

And he is grateful to those who are capable of making concerted change, for standing together and ensuring that good changes are made.

“Thank you to Ricardo Thompson from Solid Waste, Leon Swarts and Eugene Rayners from Parks and Recreation for collaborating and removing bags of rubbish and any other waste we report.”

He is very pleased that 20 green dustbins have been installed at the East beach car park, that two extra cleaners have been placed at the West Bank picnic area – and for the simple donation of 50 extra black bags.

Mr Rack, who has been leading volunteer clean-ups of the area for more than three years, said 95% of volunteers who attend beach clean-ups are from outside of the area. He said the number of surf schools who actively do their own beach clean-ups is embarrassingly low. “Believe in Schatzi Organisation is one of the only surf schools who have incorporated beach clean-ups into their surf programme; and is the only surf school who has regularly attended a beach clean-up,” Mr Rack said. The new approach to reducing plastic pollution is a long-term look at what really needs to be done to end society’s addiction to single-use plastics like straws and plastic packets.

“We need to reduce use first. Recycling is only the band-aid and the jingle of the biggest polluters. We need to reduce our plastic foot print by refusing clingfilm wrapped fruit, reusable shopping bags and choosing where to shop and how we choose to consume,” he said.

What has become quite popular among residents is the bag and walk or bag and surf initiative, where each time you walk your dog or go to surf, you collect and bin a few items of plastic waste.

If you want to be more hands on, Muizenberg Beach Clean-up Environmental Warriors will need extra volunteers at the beachfront over the New Year clean-ups on January 1, 2 and 3.

Another way the public can become involved is through the Dignity Project, where you can sponsor a cleaner on the day for R150. This gives a homeless person the opportunity to earn some nourishment and contribute to the environment they live in.

On the grounds of the vlei on Sunday afternoon December 17 is a tall man, by the name of Mike Roux, with a black bag in hand. He has striking blue eyes and a firm handshake. As a fisherman has recognises the vital importance of keeping the waterways clean. He is always keen to clean up after the Sunday revellers. Mike Roux is 70 years old.

He considers it a duty to simply do what he can.

Catherine Dillon of the Muizenberg Lakeside Residents’ Association said: “When we work together we can make the difference. But it requires will and time to attend the meetings to form the working relationships with people. We are volunteers, we do not get paid nor do we fake charity nor NPO status for funding from Plastics Inc; as we believe in reducing single-use plastics which goes against the business model of Plastic Inc.”

“Reduce, reuse and last resort recycle,” she said.

MID’s work with the City’s Solid Waste department has led to the implementation of an additional maintenance and cleaning service. Two casual gardeners have been employed on site each weekend from December 9 to the weekend of January 13.

“MID will once again partner with Believe in Schatzi Organisation (BISO) and a team of 12 people will do a walk through the MID area, collecting litter on certain days, between 6am and 8am,” said Ms Petersen.

Biso founder Ashtan Davids said of the plan: “It is such a pleasure and honour to be included in the festive cleaning plan for 2017. This has allowed Biso and MID to empower individuals with a differability who are passionate about the environment to contribute to its community by actively preparing the area for visitors to come out and have a fun filled day in Muizenberg.”