Big-wave surfer and environmental activist Josh Redman has, for the past 18 months, worked tirelessly with teams to intercept plastic in many Durban and Cape Town rivers before it reaches the ocean. Part of this has been establishing The Litterboom Project, which tackles river and ocean pollution by setting up plastic catchment systems. He has spearheaded The Litterboom Project’s buy-back centre model, which offers an alternative place for collection of plastic that would otherwise end up in the environment or water systems. This is a crucial step in mitigating plastic pollution and he has plans to spread this initiative to many other areas around South Africa. Josh has set up a new coastal programme called Back a Beach, which deploys teams at crucial points along the coastline in an effort to form a last line of defence before plastic is washed into the oceans. In addition, he has been instrumental in a number of huge coastal and river cleanup projects, with more than 250 tonnes of plastic being collected through these efforts. Josh believes in protecting the ocean and is an enormous asset to environmental protection. “Most people think that what they do cannot make a difference, but if everyone did something small, whether it be changing consumerist behaviour or putting a few minutes aside to clean your local beach, park or surrounding environment, or whatever you may choose to do, if everyone made small changes, it would have a great impact,” he says.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
In January 2021, after a flash flood there was a monumental blockage of pollution in the Ohlanga River, which we tackled. Over a period of a month, with a team of 30 plus people at time and the use of a TLB, we removed about 200 tonnes of waste from the river and surrounding environment.
Please provide specific examples of how your/your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
Our aim is to tackle waste in the river systems to intercept as much pollution as possible before it ends up in the ocean. Inevitably, a large amount of waste is still ending up on our beaches, which requires cleanup teams to remove.
We also work towards land-based solutions through opportunities in the waste space. We work with waste reclaimers, as well as facilitating a community-owned recycling buyback centre, which we see a big future for. We intend rolling out further sites to open up income opportunities in the recycling economy which are accessible to community members.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
The fast growth of informal settlements is having a huge effect on the environment because infrastructure and basic service delivery is not able to keep up with the demand. This leaves people living in very poor conditions and the waste that is produced leaks into the environment and water systems. These communities also rely on rivers and other water sources which are polluted and have become more of a hazard than a resource, especially to young children who do not know the dangers.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
We are on a very short path to being at the point of no return with the state that the environment is in. We need to all come together and make what contribution we can, no matter how small, to slow this down.