Transforming Trash to Treasure: How eThekwini is steering South Africa towards a zero-waste future

The Zero-Waste Municipal Learning Exchange, held in eThekwini Municipality, brought together delegates from various South African municipalities to share innovative approaches to waste management. Picture: Supplied.

The Zero-Waste Municipal Learning Exchange, held in eThekwini Municipality, brought together delegates from various South African municipalities to share innovative approaches to waste management. Picture: Supplied.

Published May 7, 2024


The Zero-Waste Municipal Learning Exchange, hosted by eThekwini Municipality last month marked a significant milestone in South Africa's journey towards sustainable waste management.

With the country grappling with an overwhelming amount of waste, estimated at 12.7 million tonnes annually according to recent research, the exchange aimed to spark dialogue and collaboration among municipalities to address this pressing issue.

The event, a partnership initiative between eThekwini Municipality's Cleansing and Solid Waste (CSW) Unit, Business Support, Markets, Tourism, and Agri-Business Unit (BSMTAU), along with environmental justice NGO groundWork (gW), and the Urban Futures Centre and Durban University of Technology (UFC @ DUT), brought together delegates from various municipalities, including those from the Western Cape (WC) and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provinces.

Speaking to IOL, Noluthando Magewu, acting head of Durban’s Cleaning and Solid Waste Unit said that the “exchange was an excellent exercise to actively engage in zero waste initiatives where we can all share experiences, processes and best practises used in different contexts to manage municipal waste.”

The event provided a platform for delegates to share waste management programs and initiatives implemented in their respective municipalities, fostering an environment of knowledge exchange and collaboration.

Highlights of the exchange included informative site visits to waste management facilities such as the Bisasar Road landfill, Electron Road Transfer Station, and the award-winning Marianhill landfill site and nature conservancy.

“I was excited to see the energy that the traders have, working with the composting using the waste, taking it to where the composting happens and that really excites me that the traders want to work with the organisations and want to work with the municipality,” shared Alderman Grant Twigg, representing Cape Town Metro.

Speaking of the sheer volume of waste at the Bisasar Road landfill, Twigg said that “this landfill is not going to have too much space left but I think that this is part and parcel of what we spoke about. As metros, we need to work closer with one another to share ideas and share information with another.”

The Marianhill Landfill Conservancy is an interesting initiative that combines waste management with environmental conservation. The foul-smelling landfill site posed health hazards to nearby settlements.

Authorities’ main priorities were to prevent environmental pollution, manage costs, and educate the community about waste management with strategies which included one-on-one meetings with affected communities, research, and expert consultations.

It was the first landfill site globally to be incorporated into an ecosystem restoration site and registered as a National Conservancy. By maintaining the indigenous ecosystem, the conservancy minimises biodiversity loss in the area. The project was driven by the Cleansing and Solid Waste Branch of the eThekwini Municipality.

Delegates also engaged with informal traders at the Early Morning Market, witnessing firsthand the benefits of eThekwini's zero-waste composting project.

The second day of the exchange featured a visit to the Use-It Waste Beneficiation Centre in Hammarsdale, showcasing the municipality's recycling and waste beneficiation efforts.

The final day culminated in a one-day workshop on Zero-Waste Strategies for Municipalities, co-hosted with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in KZN.

Speaking to IOL, Dr Tamlynn Fleetwood, senior researcher at DUT’s Urban Futures Centre said that the “climate challenge and waste challenge go hand-in-hand, both require bold and brave shifts in practices, systems and behaviours.”

“But the challenges we face also present a unique opportunity – an opportunity to transition to a zero-waste system that offers us a real chance to mitigate climate change, protect our precious natural resources, and promote social justice outcomes for the most marginalised in our communities.”

Throughout the exchange, delegates explored innovative approaches to waste management, including composting pilots, recycling operations, as well as debating the opportunities and risks of different waste-to-energy technologies.