Tag Archives: waste

Sue Bellinger re-imagine National Cleanup Week

One of the most sustainable activities that I’ve come across is ‘cleanups’.  We do them over and over again, in the same places and the same way.  Come September we’ll ‘celebrate’ National Cleanup Week.  Hordes of community members, schoolchildren and corporate employees will be urged to ‘celebrate’ and participate.  Kitted out with gloves, wellies and garbage bags, t-shirts and peaks emblazoned with sponsor’s logo and cleanup slogans, they’ll take to our streets, empty spaces, parks, neighbourhoods and rivers.

They’ll pick up plastic bottles and bags, cans and stompies, nappies and tyres, fast food containers and bottles, boxes and paper, and a host of unmentionables.  They’ll sweat and they’ll swear that they’ll never do another cleanup.  And at the end of the day the sponsors might dish out sweets and chips, cold drinks in bottles or cans, fast food in polystyrene containers.  Often no bins or bags are provided for the resulting waste, and the cleaner-upperer’s become litterers.

Participants take their sponsored apparel and their weary bones home at the end of the day, claiming that they ‘celebrated’ National Cleanup Week.  And sponsors place another tick against their ‘community involvement’ list.
Don’t get me wrong – right now the cleanups are necessary and I applaud all those worthy volunteers.  But isn’t our approach a bit short-sighted!

How could we really CELEBRATE National Cleanup Week?  Imagine not having to clean up, for starters? We need to start preparing now – with awareness-raising about behaviours that cause litter.  About purchases that result in waste and litter.  Reminding last year’s participants that cleaning-up was an eye-opener, sure, but shouldn’t need repeating.  We’ve already seen how great our surroundings can look – and we aim to keep them that way.  Not for us cleanups merely to show the rest of the world how we CAN look.  Oh no, we’re after cleaner surroundings FOR US.

Imagine celebrating National Cleanup Week when there‘s nothing to clean up.  It will become a day of real celebration.

What if we set ourselves a goal of improved health?  Improved health requires improved nutrition, cleaner air, water and surroundings, and adequate exercise.   Let’s educate ourselves and others about how to obtain good nutrition – certainly not from chip packets, sweets or sugary, coloured cold drinks.  Seeking good nutrition means seeking fresh fruit and veg over expensive, processed ‘treats’.

If good health is our goal, we can seek to grow our own produce.  We can feed the soil with compost made from fruit and veg peelings and other organic matter, so eliminating the odours and mess that result from dumped food waste.  We can nurture earthworms to munch their way through the organic matters.  And all of this activity constitutes a good dollop of healthy exercise in the open air.  Everyone in the family can do their bit in the garden.  Improved family-time can result.  We’ll also have more money in our own pockets when we’re growing real food for ourselves and not buying ‘junk foods’ from shops.

Reduced consumption of chips, sweets, cold drinks etc. means less packaging waste and less litter.  Less litter means cleaner surroundings and cleaner storm water drains and waterways.  These mean less money having to be spent by authorities on cleaning up.  More money in the authorities’ coffers means more funds available for more important issues – housing, health, crime prevention, education, etc.  (The DEAT – Department of Environment and Tourism’s State of Environment Report for 1999 states that we collectively generate 42 million m3 of general waste p.a. in South Africa – closer to the quantity produced per capita in developed countries like the UK than in developing countries like Nepal.  One can hardly imagine the millions of Rands that it takes to collect, cleanup and dispose of that volume.  And these statistics relate to waste generation 10 years ago, with our consumption and littering having escalated drastically in the intervening period.)

Imagine a new-style National Cleanup Week – celebrating good nutrition and good health, cleaner air and water.  We could serve healthy home-grown food produced by our own labours, topped off with fresh fruit drinks – food and drink which don’t contribute to litter but do contribute to good health and good cheer.  We’d have singing and dancing, games and poetry, mime and rhyme. Let’s start now – some ideas for how to get going:

  • Schools can tackle tuck-shop trash by switching focus gradually to serving healthy, nutritious foods only – served in compostable paper.  An audit of what’s currently on offer in the tuck-shop, and the litter that it causes, will point the way to go.
  • Participants in this year’s cleanups can take the following message to sponsors – prevention is better and much more fun than cure.  Seek their support to change habits in your community so that next year your ‘celebration’ can be altogether different to this year’s.  The new-style celebration will celebrate no labour and no cleanup costs – but rather improved health, clean surroundings and a reduced community footprint.

Which way will you choose to ‘celebrate?’  The ‘old’ way perhaps for this year – but make sure that your organization/ school/ community knows that next year National Cleanup Week will be something completely different.  It’s up to us to make it that way! (Download a copy of this article.)

*National Cleanup Week is the 14th – 19th of September 2009.

Sue Bellinger

All that energy going to waste!

In her latest article, Sue Bellinger explores the energy wasted whilst preparing our food… read on for an alternative to modern day cooking technology.

All that energy going to waste!

All that heat and hard work – could we swap it for relaxation and quality time? Recently collecting some more Sunstoves for delivery to increasing numbers of folk cottoning on to the cleanliness, simplicity and cost-savings enabled by solar cooking had me thinking about the amount of energy that usually goes into cooking.

First one has to work energetically to make the money to buy the many utensils, stove, microwave, fancy modern cooking pots, etc that the more affluent of us feel we need to have. And much energy is utilized in the sourcing of the materials (often mining) from which those goods are manufactured. Fuel (energy) powers our vehicles when we go to the store to buy the ingredients – and take them home with us.

Let us not kid ourselves when we buy pre-prepared or takeaway food either – the energy embodied (already used to create) that food ‘belongs’ to us, and therefore constitutes part of our carbon footprint, or impact on climate change. If it’s not takeaways we’re after, we diligently get to work with our chopping, slicing and other preparation activities (all requiring energy – and sometimes much cussing too), before we start in on the actual cooking process. Whether in a microwave, oven, slow cooker, or on top of the stove – energy in the form of electricity or gas a-plenty is consumed. The kitchen heats up; the heat extractor goes on – more energy. Lots of dishes to wash as a result of our preparation activities – put on the dishwasher – energy again.

And does our traditional, sociable braai or potjie bring with it zero energy requirements? Not a chance! Quite apart from the same process of collecting and preparing the food, along with the pre-chopped wood or charcoal (energy used in their production too) – we now set ourselves the additional chore of lugging everything to the far end of the garden (and back again afterwards). Lower-income folk, dependent on wood, coal, charcoal, paraffin etc – may have to expend energy walking to collect their (probably heavy) cooking-fuel supply. Though their utensils and appliances undoubtedly are fewer, they have an energy intensive cooking process to go through – stirring pots full of food over an open fire is not for sissies! And water for cooking and cleaning the pots might have had to be collected from distant sources too – more human energy.

And while we’re involved in this energy-intensive process of obtaining / creating food for ourselves and our families, our personal energy flags, our children might get fractious. ‘Mum, Mum, come and see this!’ ‘Not now, Darling, I’m busy cooking.’ Could we do things differently – with the minimum of fuss and energy?

I was lucky enough to be exposed to solar cooking and to meet the driver of the Sunstove Organisation, Margaret Bennett, some years back. Her stoves are the result of a job creation project that she founded – way back in 1993. The stoves themselves are largely made of recycled materials – recycled plastic for the moulded outer casing, recycled printer plates for the reflective innards. The layer between is currently made from fiberglass material, but recycled polystyrene is starting to look like a possible alternative. Then the only non-recycled component will be the polycarbonate lid. Over the years, her organization has manufactured and distributed more than 15 000 Sunstoves. They can be found through the length and breadth of Africa. Visit their web site.


Many’s the person therefore who can thank her for freeing up time and energy for purposes other than cooking. Myself included. Take 1 cloudless day, mix up the ingredients for your Christmas cake, put the mixture in a black pot in your north-facing Sunstove and voila 5 hours or so later you have the real McCoy – but no hot kitchen, no stove running for hours on end and no electricity cost.

And what a boon in the case of soups, casseroles and veg dishes – put the whole or coarsely-chopped ingredients in your black pot, with a little water if necessary, face the cooker north when you leave for work in the morning, and return at the end of the day to a perfectly scrumptious hot dinner – cooked slowly and retaining all its goodness. Potjie perfection. Only 1 pot to clean up, wipe the day’s dust off the lid of the Sunstove, and there’s time to spare. Time to read, spend it with your family and friends, take a walk.

If it’s a non-mess braai alternative you’re after – set-up your parabolic solar stove – chops, steaks, wors and sosaties cook to perfection. No charcoal, no firelighters, no waiting for the coals to reach the exact right temperature – just good old sun! I guess you can see that I’m hooked! The occasional day in Gauteng when the sun doesn’t make an appearance makes me feel cheated. All that old-fashioned sweating over a hot stove just doesn’t do it for me.

Yes, the to-ing and fro-ing to buy the ingredients remains, unless of course you’ve joined the swelling numbers of people growing their own veggies. But that’s another story for another time.

© Sue Bellinger, May 2009

Cut Carbon. Dare to Change!

Waste isn’t ‘waste’ until it’s wasted…

Do you ever cast an eye over your purchases at the end of a grocery shopping trip and wondered how many Rands you’ve spent on consumables and how much on packaging? If you’re not in the habit of recycling, perhaps not. It’s when one is conscious of the need to place recyclable materials into a specific bin/location, that one is aware of the volumes of packaging accompanying the toothpaste, toilet paper, tuckbox contents and toothsome goodies.

If we don’t recycle, we just toss the ‘waste’ into our bin and forget about it. At least, that is, until the day of the week when the ‘good fairies’ come and remove it from outside our gates. At this point, often when we hear the rumble of the waste operator’s truck, we curse mildly at our forgetfulness, and hasten to place our refuse bags out for collection, whence they and their contents disappear into oblivion. Or do they? Are they merely ‘out of sight; out of mind’?

From a study undertaken in 2008, statistics reflected in the DTI’s January 2009 publication ‘Proposed Road Map for the Recycling Industry’ indicate that 29% of Johannesburg’s waste stream – 32% in the case of Ekurhuleni – consists of mainline recyclables – paper, plastics, glass, tins and tyres. These can be reprocessed to make more plastics, glass, tin and rubber products. If we do this, we avoid the manufacture of more materials from virgin resources. This reduces environmental destruction (mining impacts), fuel use and emissions (transportation of raw materials), saves water and energy (significantly reduced in using recycled over virgin materials). Preventing recyclables going to landfills, extends the life of those landfills – which is a saving in our collective pockets. Not only are new landfill sites difficult to find and costly to construct and operate, but no-one’s excited about living next door to them, so they’re situated away from built-up areas. Increasing costs of transport to outlying areas means extra costs to us, the disposers.

So it’s in our own interests to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Considering the additional number of people that could be employed in collecting our recyclables, affording them a living and possibly reducing the need for them to resort to criminal activities to survive, our interests are even better served. And why if the recyclables are not ‘waste’ do we treat them as waste. Old habits die hard, as we know. Consciousness is steadily growing, though, about the usefulness of much of these resources. But we need also as consumers to play a role in consciously seeking out and buying items made from – or incorporating – recycled content. If we don’t support the market for items made from recycled materials, the demand for recyclables will drop.

But how to tell whether an item’s made from recyclables? 10 years ago in Canada fleeces were on offer, bearing the label ‘made from recycled PET’. These were selling like hot cakes, while their ‘virgin’ cousins looked dolefully on. We need signals or labels that indicate the recyclable content of products. Now that consumers are more conscious about how their buying habits potentially impact on the future of their children and grandchildren, the astute manufacturer needs to be shouting from the rooftops ‘MADE FROM RECYCLED MATERIALS’!

What about food ‘waste’? Well, when we’re bemoaning the soaring prices of food, how is it that we buy/prepare more than we can consume? Organic waste (which includes garden waste), according to the same survey of Johannesburg landfills, constitutes between 9% and 20% of the waste stream. This is the waste fraction that rots and goes putrid, belching methane into the atmosphere. At 20 times more heat-trapping a greenhouse gas as CO2, we surely should be doing everything we can to keep this at bay. Composting and vermiculture (worm-‘farming’) are gaining in popularity as means to recycling organic waste. Recycling? Both processes turn the organic waste into food for the soil. This enables us to grow our own plants. And anyone who has plucked a warm, ripe tomato direct from the vine (especially one proudly grown at home) will attest to its superior taste and aroma!

A very worthy indicator that the ‘waste’ was not waste at all.

Sue Bellinger, our Gauteng regional Club coordinator has the privilege of ‘christening’ our blog with her very first post! Sue will be writing regular articles on waste management for us.

© Sue Bellinger, March 2009