South African community builds compost site on school grounds

A community in Cape Town, South Africa, has teamed up to stop 9,800 bags of green waste cleared from their local streets from going to landfill or incineration.

In the area looked after by Little Mowbray Rosebank Improvement District (LMRID), around 9,800 bags of organic waste – mostly leaves – are collected by the local waste management company, Straatwerk, annually, and are disposed of via landfill and incineration.

Mowbray Cape Town aerial viewPatsy Taylor, who handles LMRID’s social and cleansing portfolio, contacted Straatwerk to explore alternative options but was met with reluctance and red tape from the local council. At that point, she turned to the local community, and - in November 2022 - the Principal of Rhodes High School, Bilqees Moosa, offered to convert an area of the school into a compost site for the organic waste.

While local-authority-led waste collections are standard in the UK, the only council-run collections in Cape Town are for residual waste which is taken to be landfilled or incinerated. Residents – many of which live below the poverty line – are expected to manually take their recyclables to a recycling centre or pay for private collection. The same is true for organic waste – some households compost at home – but most add their food and garden waste to their council-collected black bins.

In mid-January 2023, Straatwerk started repackaging the green waste collected from the streets into reusable hessian sacks which were loaded onto LMRID trolleys to be taken to the school compost site.

Prior to being creatively repurposed as a compost site, the area on the school grounds was largely unused, housing a rubbish dump and a small vegetable garden. In February, however, LMRID funded the clean-up of the land through an external contractor and installed eight compost troughs. Their ultimate goal is to add a small park to the land as well.

Chris Steenkamp, Rhodes High’s estate manager, told News24: “There will be recycling there, of course, with composting down the one side. There are trees already in place. And when the lawn is nicely established, we will put picnic benches and umbrellas there for the teaching staff during the week. And if neighbours want to come in and sit under the trees over the weekend, why not?”

The first batch of compost is due in July and its purpose will be decided by the school.

Taylor added that there is no intention to make a profit from the project. She said: “It is just to build relationships and get rid of the leaves and not use plastic bags. Our long-term vision is to get a woodchipper and then we can start saying to residents, right, you are chopping down a tree, come bring it to us, and slowly get the residents involved.”

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