/ 28 November 2021

Western Cape schools benefit from zero waste project

Good idea: Welwitschia Primary School has implemented a successful waste management project. (GrowZA)


Nelson Mandela said: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country”. 

And when it comes to South Africa’s waste revolution this rings truer than ever. As the custodians of our future leaders, schools play a pivotal role in breaking the habitual throw-away culture that has filled our landfills. But schools themselves generate significant amounts of waste every month.

The Greater Tygerberg Partnership (GTP) in collaboration with the Western Cape education department, Plant the Seed, Waste-ed, DF Malan High School, Welwitschia Primary School and Bellville South Primary School have designed and implemented a zero-waste project to educate learners on the importance of sustainable waste management

The Zero Waste School project is a replicable, scalable waste-reduction programme that provides schools with a toolkit to reduce waste sent to landfills by recycling more effectively. It aims to educate staff members and learners on how to design better waste management systems, and challenges them to be more responsible about their waste practices.

What started as a project to reduce waste to landfill in 2019 has rapidly become an education-based system piloted at DF Malan High School with more than 1 000 learners and 90 staff members. 

“We didn’t make any big infrastructure changes, but we focused rather on changing the mindsets of learners. It was important for us to remind them that they also needed to, but also that they could take individual action,” said Sias Conradie, the headmaster of DF Malan High School.

The process begins by conducting a waste audit at each school to determine the amount and types of waste each school produces in one full week. Then the GTP calculates the number of bins needed for each type of waste. 

Once all rubbish bins have been replaced with a system of labelled bins, learners are encouraged to separate paper/cardboard, plastic, glass/metals and food as they throw them away in bins around the school. For non-recyclable materials, eco-bricking stations are provided, and the eco-bricks can later be used for building furniture, garden walls and other structures around the school. 

Once the bin systems are installed the GTP also assists the schools in educating their learners on the importance and correct use of the system with educational posters, four detailed planned lessons on waste education and additional workshops with teachers and students. GTP has partnered with top recyclers that collect the recyclables from the school once the depot bins are full. 

Each school is fitted with a compost depot for food waste and a waste to resource depot. In the case of DF Malan High, the project began to generate immediate results and within three months the school had reduced its waste sent to landfills by 50% and by the end of 2019, that had increased to 60%. Not to mention saving about R3 000 a month in waste removal costs and earning up to R6 000 a year in recycling loads.

The intention is that the successful school pay it forward to other schools, especially those in low-income areas, using the toolkit to help other schools achieve the same or even better results. 

At Welwitschia Primary School, students produced 357kg of waste in one full week, which is more than a ton of waste going to landfill each month. From the 1 428kg of waste produced each month, 720kg (50.4%) can be recycled and 48kg (3.4%) can be turned into compost and the remaining 660kg (46.2%) non-recyclable waste can be used as eco-bricks.

South Africa has 26 000 schools. If this project has the capability of being rolled out to each one, that could significantly reduce the country’s waste footprint.

Because of its high level of sustainability after the initial investment, the project is scalable, replicable and produces easily measurable outcomes, making it attractive not only to schools but also to businesses, university campuses, student residences, office blocks and potentially even hospitals.

The remarkable results of this project would not have been possible without the investment of R50 000 by the Western Cape education department and the intellectual investment of experts in waste education, Plant the Seed. It is the dream of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership that during 2022, this programme will be extended into schools such as Essenhout Primary School in Delft and Elnor Primary School in Elsies River and other schools in low-income areas.