Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Recycle like Lance Armstrong

OK, folks, enough of the silly stuff now ... time to get serious. Time to throw away the plastic bags and never buy another one, time to start that veggie garden, time to think about what you eat, wear and throw away. Time to do your bit to help this truly lovely planet.

RECYCLING has been on my mind for some time now, but I did not know what to do about it or how to start. Recycling and environmental awareness is so much part of life in Europe, the States and Australasia, but South Africa has not quite reached this stage. Overseas there are special bins for paper, plastic, bottle and tins and everything gets taken away by the municipality to be recycled. But our own beloved Pikitup arrives once a week, makes a helluva racket, everyone screams and shouts, the cats and dogs run away and then the truck is gone - having emptied the contents of the neighbourhood bins all higgledy piggledy together. No chance of recycling there.

The only ones who do recycle are the hawkers who go through all your municipal bins outside in the street, then load up their shopping trolleys with bottles and cans and huge cardboard pieces that they can't see over the top of, and wheel them down the road against the traffic (cue: screech of brakes!), en route to the dump where they get paid for their goods-to-be-recycled by the kilogram. This for many is their only form of livelihood. They can earn between R100 to R1000 a week, depending on how much they gather but it's a very tough existence.

Good news is, there are a myriad of smallish independent recyling companies out there and the shopping centres are coming on board. Like Gateway in Durban which is the only place in South Africa which has built-in semi-automatic sorting machines in the basement which bale all the waste, I was told by Marianna Naidoo whose husband Darren runs a company called WASTE RECYCLERS. Some of the shopping centres do recycling on site and then get companies to remove it to different depots. Marianna told me about the "bakkie brigades", who arrive with their own cars and take the rubbish off to the depot, earning themselves much needed cash. Something that people have not yet cottoned on to is there is MONEY in recycling.

There just isn't enough information for the man on the street, though. You all ask yourselves, how do I recycle in my own home? And where do I take it? What do I do about that pile of old magazines and newspapers? And the bottles from last night's party? Or all the empty loo rolls that the family mysteriously accumulates in a single week? Can I start a veggie garden if I live in a townhouse complex? Why does everything you buy seem to be packaged in plastic (sometimes impenetrably so). What happens to this mountain of STUFF?

First thing to do is, get into the habit of sorting out your rubbish into glass, plastic, wet waste, paper and cold drink bottles. Get a couple of old naartjie/fruit boxes and put each category into a different box. Soon it will be as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. And here's what you do with it ...

Michelle Garforth Venter, who has just won a Glamour Woman Award for her eco-contributions, told me about a company called WHOLE EARTH (www.wholeearth.co.za) who provide recyling bins for your home and come every second Monday of the month to take away your sorted goodies (and yes, they do come to townhouse complexes). The company was started by Michele Higginson, who owns Crabtree & Evelyn in South Africa. The Whole Earth bins cost about R300 each and the service is about R700 a year. All you have to do is wash out your stuff (don't want fruit flies infesting your bins!) and sort it into different categories. Just throw in the cat food pouches or dog food packet, empty Coke bottle, yoghurt cartons, etc, in with the morning's washing up, and train your "home executive" to do the same.

Michelle gave me some great other tips too. If you can, get a wormery she says. This is for all your "wet waste" that doesn't get sorted out and you can put the nice smelling compost created by the friendly earthworms on your newly created veggie garden. She said Full Cycle make the best wormeries and you can get them at all garden shops. The reason she say they are the best is because they come on legs which allows for run-off. Keep the taps open, she says so the wormery drains and the worms don't drown. You or your "garden executive" (who may be your husband or even a green-fingered child) can use the run off diluted 3:1 with water as liquid fertiliser for your plants. Alright, get your head around the word "worms" now. These are the earthworm variety, the kind that eat up your tea leaves, newspaper and veggie scraps and turns them miraculously into soil!

Or try an interior composter from Full Cycle which you can keep in the office/home. It works with "bokashi", which looks like sawdust. Chuck your sandwich crusts, tea grounds, apple cores and lunch waste into the tray and sprinkle the bokashi over it to help the waste decompose. "Basically, it pickles the waste,"' says Michelle.

Another option is a Sink Master, the same as they have in the States, for the leftovers. No more old green gibble in dustbin gravy!

Michelle and her husband Riaan have already been involved in greening the Minister of the Environment's house, as well as that of Basetsane Kumalo, and gave me some handy things to do around the house, some of which might help beat Eskom's unbelievable price hikes.

1.Geyerwise is the gadget that you put on the side of your geyser and set the temperature at 27 degrees Celsius. If you want you can go down to 10 or 12 degrees.
2. Changing all the lightbulbs to Eurolux, including up and down lighters.
3. Stop using a tumbledrier and use natural sunlight.
4. Use a Bioball (get this at health shops, such as Fresh Earth in Linden) to replace your detergent, or use local natural detergents such as Blouwaterblommetjie or Enchantrix, also from Fresh Earth.
4. Recycle all the water in your house via a gray or black water system.

Michelle also told me about the top three chemicals to avoid in household cleaners and cometics. The next time you're in the supermarket squinting at the fine print on your toothpaste, face cream, general cleaner, or dishwashing liquid, here's what to look for:

1. Parabens. These are preservatives.
2. Phthalate, commonly known as parfums.
3. Asodium Laurel Sulphates (on the label it will say ALS).

All of these are oestrogen mimickers, she says, which enter the bloodstream. They do have to be present in huge quantities before they affect you to the degree where all sorts of medical conditions present themselves, but who wants to risk that? It's time we starting thinking more about these things.

Another scary fact is the landfill. Landfills are municipally allocated specific areas where everything is dumped all together. Often this produces huge amounts of methane gas (which can be used to generate energy, which is positive) and the landfills have to be covered or they pose a health hazard. They also have to be dug very deep and if the dumps are not lined the waste goes into our water table. Not a pretty thought. Michelle told me about a "good" landfill called Enviro-Fill which her programme has shot a few times. Enviro-Fill have a reccyling station and compact cubes of waste on site.

Another thing I have always wondered about is what happens to all the plastic and paper once it has been sorted, collected and sent to the right place. So I asked Marianna what happens to the waste that is sent to her plant in Elandsfontein, where they have different machines for breaking down and recycling plastics. The plastic is melted into opaque thick masses, like cottonwool, to be reused. Sometimes the cans get flattened and sold to India to be turned into sheet metal. Paper is sent to big companies like Sappi, Mondi and Nampak and sorted into different categories, like white paper, coloured paper, newspaper, magazines and cardboard, and broken down again. The ink of course dissolves. The recycled product is used instead of virgin paper for other commercial products.

One company in South Africa even makes polyester clothing and duvet covers out of cold drink bottles, she told me!

Education is the key to understanding recyling and environmental awareness. We have to relearn our lives and the way that we think. We have to throw away our favourite household brands that we grew up with, unless they get with the programme and become more environmentally friendly. Nursery schools are a good place to start. If your children become more environmentally aware, so will you. Local garages are another good spot. Press coverage needs to be stepped up although community papers have been very vigilant.

We as Africans were brought up with the notion of conservation, of saving or rehabilitating animals in the bush, practically on our doorstep. The idea of shooting a wild animal for the sheer sport of it is anathema to most of us. Even culling seems cruel. So let's translate that awareness into our own lives, as now it is our planet that is endangered.

1 comment:

sarah cangley said...

Hi Sarah ~ I reiterate that I LOVE reading your blog !!! and just to let you know there is a GREAT recycling site at the WOODMEAD ( near Makro) "dump" where they have bins for absolutely EVERYTHING you want to throw out ! We go every fortnight and its just become part of our lives now to separate everything from the kitchen !! DAWN PAIDOUSSI