Durban waste crisis sparks urgent call for sustainable solutions

Rubbish piles up in the Durban CBD as unmarked refuse removal trucks are escorted by Metro police due to safety reasons. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / Independent Newspapers

Rubbish piles up in the Durban CBD as unmarked refuse removal trucks are escorted by Metro police due to safety reasons. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 25, 2024


Durban's picturesque streets have recently been marred by an unprecedented level of uncollected waste, highlighting deep-seated challenges in the city's waste management system.

The strike action, initiated by members of the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU), has left residents facing the stark reality of unsustainable waste practices and the limitations of relying solely on municipal services for waste management.

In the wake of the strike, which saw refuse piling up on sidewalks and spilling onto streets and green spaces, cleanup efforts have commenced, but the backlog remains daunting.

The strained relationship between workers and the municipality raises concerns about the potential for future disruptions, underscoring the need for lasting solutions to Durban's waste woes.

Glenwood resident and Zero Waste Pilot Project coordinator, Paul Jones, said that “the recent crisis has brought two critical issues to the forefront: the unsustainable volume of waste generated by residents and the necessity of diversifying waste management approaches beyond municipal services alone.”

Amid the mounting waste crisis, the principle of 'zero waste' emerges as a beacon of hope.

Rooted in responsible production, consumption, and recycling practices, zero waste advocates for minimising landfill disposal and preserving environmental health.

Embracing zero waste principles at the individual and household levels entails conscious efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle materials, thus lessening reliance on municipal waste collection services.

“For many, waste management has been synonymous with placing refuse in municipal black bags for collection, with little consideration for recycling or waste separation. However, the strike has laid bare the environmental repercussions of this approach, prompting a re-evaluation of personal waste management practices,” said Jones.

While the challenges posed by Durban's waste crisis are substantial, there are tangible steps individuals can take to mitigate their environmental impact.

Home composting solutions, which separate organic waste from general refuse, offer a promising avenue for waste reduction. By diverting organic waste from landfills and facilitating recycling of valuable materials, such initiatives contribute to a more sustainable waste management ecosystem.

Marc Kalina, senior scientist at ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) Zürich, also a Glenwood resident, said that “the strike has underscored the invaluable role of informal waste pickers in waste management, highlighting their resilience and dedication in the face of system failures. As formal waste management systems falter, empowering and supporting informal waste pickers becomes imperative for maintaining service standards and fostering circularity.”

In response to the crisis, the 'Glenwood Zero Waste Pilot Project' has been initiated to demonstrate decentralised, zero waste approaches to waste management challenges.

Supported by the eThekwini Municipality's Cleansing and Solid Waste (CSW) unit, the project aims to foster collaboration between residents, waste pickers, and the municipality in developing localised waste management solutions.

“As Durban navigates its waste crisis, residents are urged to embrace sustainable waste management practices and explore innovative solutions to reduce their environmental footprint.

By prioritising waste reduction, recycling, and community collaboration, Durbanites can pave the way towards a cleaner, greener future for their city,” Kalina concluded.

To learn more about the 'Glenwood Zero Waste Pilot Project' or get involved, contact the project team at [email protected].