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From the “Bee in my Bonnet” column – Eating up recycling

MOST dutiful citizens that receive a waste collection service are requested to sort their household refuse into two bags – in my own case, a clear plastic bag for recyclables such a plastics, paper, metal (usually tin cans) cardboard etc., and a black bag for everything else.

Diligent householders will have noticed that since the implementation of the collection of the recyclables, the trash in their black bags has diminished considerably.

I understand that the City intends to introduce a three bag system this year to complement the existing two – for vegetable matter, peelings, food scraps etc. which will then be transported to a composting centre which can be run by enterprising emerging contractors. (This Provincial initiative was covered in the front cover story in CBN May 2021.)

Excellent initiatives – a) to recover and recycle whatever we can as part of a (responsible) circular and sustainable economy b) to recover valuable nutrients from vegetable matter whilst creating employment opportunities and c) to minimize the filling pressures on our landfills which are rapidly running out of space.

One would have thought that those with a lot more waste to dispose of, and who could, would be at the forefront – sorting their precious left overs into easily demarked bags or skips for responsible onward treatment…

This doesn’t always seem to be the case.

Driving down Stadler Road in early January, in the normally picturesque suburb of Bloubergstrand, my onward path was blocked by a City refuse truck, going about its business in collecting roadside bins and through an ingenious mechanism, upending their contents into the waiting jaws of the compaction truck.

Very efficient I thought until we were stopped alongside the only restaurant in that one way street.

While a normal household has one black bin, this restaurant had perhaps 20 or more – the contents of which were up ended into the waiting jaws of the compaction truck, and then onward to the landfill.

It was clear from sight and sound that the black bags within the bins contained considerable amounts of glass – the rocket scientist in me deduced that they were probably beer and wine bottles. Loosely attached were large amounts of cardboard packaging materials – aha – cartons for transporting wine, beer and other beverages, Sherlock!

Wondering why an establishment that handles so much recyclable material are apparently not recycling, I first approached the City’s Solid Waste Department to get some clarity on the matter.

Alderman Grant Twigg is the head of the Solid Waste department and during an interview he explained the importance of the City’s recycling initiatives and the pressing need to divert waste from the City’s landfills which have an expected life of just 10 years at current rates of disposal.

He said the City operates 27 sites where recycled materials can be dropped off by contractors and responsible citizens.

He advised that the byelaws state that businesses must sort at source and engage with an accredited contractor for the removal of recyclable waste – which would particularly apply to restaurants. These requirements are made clear to business owners and form part of their licencing contract with the City. A team of inspectors randomly check for compliance, but he stated that in preference to issuing fines for non-compliance, his department prefers the consultative and educational approach. This is particularly the case following the COVID lockdown which has hit the hospitality industry particularly hard. So much so, said Alderman Twigg, that certain byelaws were being reviewed.

So it is clear that restaurant owners have to sort at source and separate recyclables (and food waste) into skips or bags and have to have this removed and disposed of by an accredited contractor, no doubt at a cost.

As of the time of writing I have been unable to contact the manager of On the Rocks in Stadler Road for comment but a right of reply is offered.

It was refreshing to be able to discuss the matter with a responsible City official in a frank and open conversation, unlike the response received from the Spatial Planning and Environment department, who have refused me an interview opportunity to discuss the prevalence of the number of unfinished buildings in the City.

One in particular which has remained in that state for more than 15 years.


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