Frances Ringwood chats to Andrew Fleming, a senior researcher for the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) to find out what Cape Town is doing in its aims to achieve ‘zero waste to landfill’.

Comparing one South Africa city’s waste management strategy to another is like comparing apples and oranges. Each metropolitan area is unique, with specific economic and social drivers, higher or lower living standards measures and administrations motivated by varying political platforms and agendas.

The following interview looks at the Cape Town Central City’s approach to resource management as something systemic and holistic and not as a model that may be translated to other South African cities – although the inspiration to work harder towards a greener city does translate.

One thing that helps enormously to assist the Cape Town Central City’s approach is its Central City Improvement District (CCID). A public-private partnership, the CCID was established in 2000 by local property owners who wanted to see Cape Town’s CBD rise from a situation of “crime and grime”, to once again become a safe, clean urban environment that also promotes investment through it’s “Open for Business” message.

One of the key components of the vision – which has proved highly successful to date with many visitors noting the Central City’s improving cleanliness – has been a fresh approach to waste management. The idea is to promote a move towards a “circular economy” – one where waste will ultimately be seen as a valuable resource, and virtually nothing going to landfill.

FR: What does the future of the Cape Town Central City and indeed Cape Town as a whole look like with regards to the zero waste concept?

AF: There’s opportunity and the City of Cape Town are running some really great programmes to incentivise people to shift towards lower waste, but at the same time a lot of it will start revolving around the behavioural choices of people in the city. An important factor in enabling a city to become more sustainable is to increase densification – in other words, to be a more sustainable city we need to use the land better than we already do.

We will obviously have more people living here in time – that’s the reality of all South African urban areas – so we need to find ways of housing them better. This ranges from enhancing informal settlements to providing more affordable accommodation in urban areas such as the Cape Town CBD. That is the way to build a sustainable city.

FR: What priority is zero waste for a city such as Cape Town – surrounded by astounding natural wonders, compared to a landlocked city?

AF: There is the environmental aspect to protecting our flora and fauna, which is easy enough to say. We are one of the most diversified areas in the world here at the southern tip of Africa. We have species of plants and animals here that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, so we have to protect these.

Cape Town is also a coastal town, which means that we are susceptible to climate change, sea-level rises and resulting flooding which could occur, which could put our agriculture at risk. Also, if we see substantial seasonal shift, farmers may need to rethink their production cycles, which could affect vineyards and crops around the greater Western Cape area.

Climate change can also have a massive impact on how people will grow food for their own sustenance and to supply local markets – which could also have a big impact on obtaining the ideal closed loop production cycle. Climate change is going to have a really serious impact on our ability to look after our sustainability.

FR: What difference can we all make on an individual level?

AF: Prioritise your buying: when you go to the grocery store, look at where things come from and whenever possible try to buy “local”. The potatoes you are buying could come from a country elsewhere in the world which means that the carbon footprint of those potatoes you will not only be ridiculously high, but will be counterproductive to growing our local economy by supporting our own food producers.

In Cape Town, for example, you can get order a full veggie box from a local organisation such as Harvest of Hope. The vegetables are grown in Philippi, in one of the larger townships on the outskirts of the city, and Harvest of Hope will happily deliver even into the CBD.

This is a really great way to obtain and understand which vegetables grow in what season, which many of us forget because supermarkets import so many products to fill consumer demand. So, for example, you’ll become aware that beetroot is only available in South Africa (as in, grown by local farmers) during a certain part of the year, so if you are seeing these on supermarket shelves at other times of the year, you immediately recognise that these must be imported.

FR: How can moving towards zero waste help to transform the lives of people working and living in the Central City?

AF: One of the biggest challenges for the Central City and for Cape Town overall is to become a more integrated city, socially and economically, and now we have the opportunity to do this while also building a sustainable future.

For example, in terms of the Central City (the CBD), if we can build and provide more affordable, densified housing options, and build with sustainable guidelines in mind, we’ll see more people able to live close to their place of work. This means not only a reduced carbon footprint but economically these families will be spending significantly less on their monthly transport costs – which, for many Capetonians, takes up the largest portion of their take-home salary or wages.

FR: How does the average person access the zero waste lifestyle and how can they encourage their friends and neighbours to join in?

AF: Initiatives such as community gardens are a big thing. In the Cape Town City Bowl area (of which the CBD is part), we have the Oranjezicht City Farm – a non-profit project which grows and celebrates local food, culture and community through urban farming. The City has also recently established a fruit and vegetable garden in The Company’s Garden in the middle of the CBD.

There’s a wave of these types of community gardens now starting to emerge across the urban landscape and we ask people to support these. Or subscribe to the Harvest of Hope project. Or start to grow your own – even an apartment balcony can accommodate a few pots. Be mindful of your waste and recycle – or start a recycling project in your office, apartment building or street. These things create and help to integrate communities and stimulate the “sharing economy” so critical towards achieving a zero waste society.


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