Big returns on recycling
Many rural communities in Mpumalanga are not serviced by municipal waste collection, and schools in these communities have no option but to incinerate their waste.
For schools participating in community recycling solutions, however, the future looks brighter — for the first time in years the air around them is not smudged with smoke from burning rubbish.
Louise Williamson, who co-ordinates the project, noticed that waste disposal at rural schools in the province was an environmental issue.
With help from the AutoTec Foundation, a non-governmental organisation involved in the development of Mpumalanga schools, she initiated the Seven Schools Club.
Seven schools got their learners involved in a recycling programme to promote energy efficiency and to combat the negative environmental impacts from burning of waste. The number has now grown to 10 schools.
Over the past 14 months the project has recycled more than 16 200kg of waste.
It also has a strong social impact: money is earned through the waste, environmental awareness has been integrated into the curriculum and the social impact has extended into the surrounding communities.
Waste sorted at the schools is sold on to Remade Greens Recycling, a service provider that collects the waste and pays money earned for it into a special account.
This is accessed by the schools through a letter requesting to purchase "what they need", says Williamson. In this way the schools can use their earnings to buy necessary equipment, from desks to computers.
The AutoTec Foundation arranges the actual purchase, obviating the need for schools to handle cash and at the same time guarding against any possible misuse of funds.
All 10 schools now have JoJo rainwater tanks that provide them with a steady supply of water.
Williamson says the project has delivered other benefits, including evidence that learners who have been exposed to the programme are working harder at school.
Some schools have won awards in recognition of their efforts.
Sakhile High school used its winnings to take learners to Maropeng and the Sterkfontein caves.
"It was such an experience for the learners, who are from poverty-stricken homes," she says.
When the school won the Recycling and Clean-up competition sponsored by Plastics South Africa, learners and teachers flew to KwaZulu-Natal, stayed in a hotel and went to uShaka Marine World.
"First time on a plane, first time to KwaZulu-Natal, first time in a hotel… You can imagine how wonderful that must have been," she says.