Based on data from the United Nations 3 billion people do not have access to controlled waste disposal, this is where waste is managed to mitigate its environmental and social impacts. Dreamcatcher has a long legacy of addressing waste challenges which are explored below. In addition through our Made in Melkhoutfontein project we utilise waste as a resource through crafting and making products, and we are busy tackling the challenge of organic waste through our Green Johanna initiative.
Melkhoutfontein, where Dreamcatcher are based, has historically been impacted by poor waste services. A decade ago, the local waste management system consisted of Hessequa Municipality collecting waste from the Stilbaai area, disposing it at Melkhoutfontein dumpsite and burning the majority of the waste (see image at top). There were no controls in place to mitigate the impacts of the site – no leachate management (the liquid generated when waste breaks down) or gas collection system, nor controls on whom and what could be dumped at the site. The burning of waste, as well as having environmental implications, had a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of Melkhoutfontein residents. The former Dreamcatcher Home Office was based on the site of a former dumpsite, and illegal dumping of waste in the community remains a challenge.
Dreamcatcher has been vocal in its criticism of this poor practice and for over a decade we have been working on a number of initiatives to improve the waste management system. Core to this has been encouraging the local authority to implement composting to handle organic waste since 2010.
Whilst there have been some improvements in recent years – for example waste, in general, is no longer openly burned in Melkhoutfontein with most waste being disposed of in Riversdale, and Henque Waste also provide a recycling programme, there are still significant improvements needed.
We are far from Hessequa Municipality’s vision of being a Zero Waste Society by 2020, as set out in the Integrated Development Plan’s covering 2012-2016 and 2017-2022 (note – this statement was removed in the revised Integrated Development Plan covering 2023-2028). Furthermore Dreamcatcher initiated a Community Waste Working Group representing the full eco-system in 2018 and provided Hessequa Municipality with a comprehensive plan to consider implementation, (free of charge) based on in-depth research and monitoring over a 10 year period. The Waste Working Group expressed concern that Hessequa Municipality was promoting the region, and particularly Stilbaai, a beautiful holiday destination, as one of the ‘Greenest Municipalities and towns in the country whilst the waste management system failed to adhere to legislative requirements.
The municipality has continued its dependency on landfill which as well as being the least sustainable waste management option (bottom of the waste hierarchy) is currently artificially cheap – and in stark contrast to their previous commitment to have no waste going to landfill by 2020! Moreover the landfill sites they operate perform poorly. Waste facilities in the Western Cape are licensed – and based on the latest available data no waste facility in Hessequa achieved a ‘Green’ compliance score (meaning only minor amendments were needed) from the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning as set out in the Garden Route District Municipality Integrated Waste Management Plan 2020 – 2025. All sites classified as ‘Amber’ (improvements needed) or ‘Red’ (major improvements needed) with the Melkhoutfontein site having a lowly compliance score of 47.3%. Whilst the site was licensed in 2014 (updated in 2018) there remains issues of non-compliance in particular the management of organic waste. As set out in its own Hessequa Waste Management Plan 2020-2024 the levels of compliance have gone down at the Melkhoutfontein site. Whilst the site is only licensed to accept garden and construction waste – and burning of waste is prohibited – our own monitoring shows the conditions of the license are not being fully adhered to.
Since 2005 Dreamcatcher has worked on initiatives to address waste and its public health and environmental impacts in communities, with special focus on those areas affected the most: the townships of South Africa. Today, Dreamcatcher South Africa’s founder Anthea, has extensive experience of working in the waste sector, with specific focus on re-use, recycling and diverting organic waste from landfill. This includes collaborating with community-based tourism enterprises, social housing providers and multiple housing developments to improve waste management services both in South Africa and UK. Experience in the UK includes working on a government funded project where she collaborated with 73 social housing sites covering 31 local authorities. Working with staff and residents Anthea led on identifying challenges and implementing solution to improve waste management. This included behaviour change programmes – and specific focus on home composting due to the significant levels of organic waste generated and its impact on climate change. The project led to significant impacts on the ground, informed government policy, and the development of best practice which was shared at the International Solid Waste Association Annual Congress in Belgium and results have been published in the journal Sustainability.
Due to the ongoing waste system which Anthea viewed as unsustainable, and the lack of local technical waste expertise, Anthea reached out to the University of Brighton in the UK who have extensive experience and knowledge of waste. To this day Dreamcatcher continues to collaborate with Dr Ryan Woodard – who holds a PhD in waste management and the circular economy. For over 24 years he worked as a researcher and lecturer in waste at the University of Brighton on over 50 projects ranging from waste flows into landfill sites to training teams of community volunteers. He has written over 100 technical reports and journal papers with topics ranging from anaerobic digestion in Bangladesh to healthcare waste management in Cameroon. Other roles have included sitting on the UK government working group on waste data, on the editorial panel of Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering journal Waste and Resource Management, and on an international working group on waste communication and prevention.
Below provides a timeline of work Dreamcatcher has done in collaboration with partners to address waste issues.