Changing consumer behaviour to help solve SA’s waste management woes

With World Environment Day observed in the month of June, conversations around the importance of environmental sustainability, and specifically South Africa’s waste management problem, have come to the fore once again.

According to the 2020 National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS), an estimated 107.7-million tons of general waste is generated annually, with as much as 90% of all waste ending up in landfills – a waste management resource that is already considered unsustainable due to the high levels of methane gas and CO2 that are generated by the rotting rubbish in the ground, among other issues.

Prioritising a circular economy approach is at the core of the NWMS, and arguably remains South Africa’s best shot at solving its waste problems. This involves reusing and recycling processed materials – such as paper, plastic, glass, tin can and food waste – to avoid the need to extract raw materials in the first place, as well as having to dispose of waste.

Achieving a circular economy may seem like a pipe dream that’s not achievable for a long time, but in reality, achieving zero-waste to landfills, cleaner communities and a culture of environmental awareness has layers of complexity.

For instance, one process that contributes to realising a circular economy is the beneficiation of mineral waste – a treatment process that improves the qualities of raw materials so that it can be used in other production processes or to provide further economic value. Recycling paper and plastic products is an example of this.

Changing habits

On the other hand, ordinary citizens can also play a role in contributing toward the realisation of a circular economy in many valuable ways – from changing the way we eat and travel to how and what we buy.

The e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) has stated that SA creates roughly 6.2kg of electronic waste per resident annually and only a fraction of this is actually recycled (about 12%). Internationally, the overall e-waste volume has grown by more than 21% in the last five years alone.

The same applies to the production and consumption of everyday goods. The fast fashion industry depends on the production of synthetic and fossil-fuel based materials. As a result, the global textile industry uses 43 million tonnes of chemicals every year as part of the fibre production, dying and manufacturing processes for these materials. Moreover, the fashion industry is responsible for a fifth of waste water globally.

Conscious efforts to reuse and recycle instead of buying new and adding to a world already filled to the brim with ‘stuff’ are not limited to fashion. While used car prices increased considerably between 2020 and 2021, South Africans are still opting for second-hand vehicles of higher quality over new models that don’t often measure up. The same goes for household items like furniture and décor, and even electronics, which minimises e-waste.

The 2022 Circular Gap report, an exploration of circular economy concepts from a global perspective, predicts that commitments to a circular economy from a consumer level has the potential to cut material use by 28% and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 39%. This would bring SA and the rest of the world a great deal closer to realising the global 1.5-degree Celsius global warming goal set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Achieving the goal of a circular economy for South Africa starts with its citizens and the choices they make as consumers. Better, more environmentally conscious choices have the potential to change the course and contribute to less waste finding its way to landfills, reducing the damaging effects this has on the environment as a result.

Now that you’ve got the knowledge, it’s time to shop! Head to or your Gumtree app (click for Apple & Android) and don’t forget to use your location settings to find local automotive vehicle information close to home.

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