Orange Bag Domestic Recycling Project

This example showcases the first city-wide recycling initiative in South Africa, E’Thekwini’s Orange Bag Domestic Recycling Project. This project illustrates an effective public-private partnership model that involves citizens, local businesses, social entrepreneurs and local government. It harnesses the desire to recycle by making it convenient for citizens, profitable for businesses, beneficial for civil society and local government.

The e’Thekwini Municipality enables 956,000 households around Durban in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province to recycle a total of 71,000 tonnes of paper and plastic every month!

Not just households are targeted, but businesses too. Increasing the lifespan of Durban’s landfills and saving 8,500 trees, while creating additional jobs are some of the benefits enjoyed by this smart, city-wide, domestic waste recycling project.

E’Thekwini’s Orange Bag Domestic Recycling Project started in 2007 and was underpinned by an education and media campaign to ensure community buy-in – and it paid off. They recovered 45 tonnes of paper and plastic in just the first month. Trained e’Thekwini representatives visited homes, a helpline was created, informational material distributed, and the orange bags (15 delivered each week) were printed with the necessary instructions.

Bags are provided to families free of charge for paper and plastic only. But if households fail to use them for their intended purpose, their non-compliance will result in them receiving warning letters to advise them that they no longer will receive orange bags.

Keeping orange bags separate from black bags filled with general waste is essential. To avoid any contamination of recyclables normal compacting trucks are inappropriate for collection.

© e’Thekwini Municipality

Instead of buying new vehicles, e’Thekwini gave this opportunity to small entrepreneurs like Ravesh Ramgobin. An already emerging local businessman when the project started, Ravesh established an enterprise to collect the orange bags from Pinetown to Cato Ridge, employing 12 people only. Today, he owns six four-tonne trucks, employs 24 people and services more than 130,000 households from Amanzimtoti to Umkomaas, including Chatsworth. Ravesh and the six other contractors who work on the project are supplied with clothing and trained by e’Thekwini to adhere to certain regulations and effectively monitor proper use of the orange bags.

Contractors like Ravesh are not paid by the municipality. An agreement signed with Mondi, one of the largest paper manufacturing companies in South Africa, ensures they pay contractors’ salaries and receive both paper and plastic at their facility. This landmark partnership influenced the e’Thekwini City Council to allocate the R4 million needed to start the project. In addition to taking responsibility for the waste after it is sorted and collected, Mondi contributes 50% of the manufacturing and packaging costs of the recyclable orange bags. Other companies like Izaka Plastics also are involved as they produce the orange bags from recyclable material.

A remarkable aspect of this project is its partnership with Durban Mental Coastal Health, a stalwart organisation in the province. Their project, Challenge Unlimited, ran workshops to equip the intellectually disabled to earn an income and they proved an ideal choice to do the packaging of the bags.

Co-ordinator, Carmel Murugen, explains that 230 persons with psychiatric illness and intellectual disabilities, aged between 18 and 60 years old, packaged 620,000 bags between May and July this year. Carmel reminds us that not only are such repetitive tasks ideal for those with mental illness but it teaches teamwork while providing a safe and constructive routine.

© e’Thekwini Municipality

This project allows businesses to save money by using contractors to collect their waste and sort it into recyclable and non-recyclable perishables. Small traders in township areas collect recyclables from the Mondi facility at a reliable price – and this is growing. The project is set to target these communities and enable poorer areas to sort their waste. Based on the success of this recycling project, e’Thekwini is initiating a similar venture for glass and tins.

Clearly, this is a public-private partnership that works. It harnesses the desire to recycle by making it convenient for citizens, profitable for businesses, beneficial for civil society and local government. The cherry on the cake is the creation of jobs for the most marginalised group in SA – those with intellectual disabilities!

By sustaining such an eco-system, hopefully it will become part of the ethos and culture of South African society.

Read about the creative ways South Africans solve public problems from the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, the country’s repository for solutions that improve quality of life for the poor. 

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