What we may see as waste, others see as a resource.
How it works
As I set out this summer for a month traveling with my family through Africa, the Middle East and the United States for business and vacation, I wondered: Where would I find the best examples of sustainability and social impact — and lessons to bring home for businesses, brands and those of us working for a better world?
Let’s face it: Africa and the Middle East don’t usually conjure up images of “sustainability,” but quite the opposite.
We might think of impoverished, malnourished and oppressed people living in over-crowded, polluted cities, drought-stricken deserts or remote jungles — places where greedy corporations, corrupt dictators and violent warlords exploit them and natural resources.
The U.S. and other developed countries more likely would come to mind as a model for human rights, corporate responsibility and environmental conservation practices. But I was pleasantly surprised to find sustainability bright spots and takeaways in all five countries I visited on three continents: Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.
Senegal: Advancing human rights for women and girls
To address the lack of basic education at the root of most failed development projects in Senegal, American Molly Melching created the nonprofit Tostan in 1991 using a then-novel approach: educating villagers in their own national languages, such as Wolof and Pulaar, using non-traditional methods such as theater and storytelling. I knew this was something special when I first volunteered at Tostan (which means “hatching” in Wolof) for seven months in the mid-1990s.
But visiting this summer after more than 20 years, I found that Molly and her team have become the driving force behind a globally recognized movement to end the prevalent traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child or forced marriage in Senegal and five other African countries where Tostan operates, a story chronicled in the book “However Long the Night.”
To date, more than 7,400 African communities have pledged to end these practices and Senegal has outlawed FGC — sparing millions of girls and women the pain, infection birthing complications and even death that can accompany it.
How is Tostan succeeding on this complex issue where so many others have failed? Recognizing that women practice FGC out of respect for religious and cultural norms, Molly’s team didn’t judge them or even ask them to stop. Instead, they empowered women with the human rights and health knowledge that, over many years, led them to make their own brave declarations.
As Hillary Clinton put it, following her visits as first lady and later as a senator, “Tostan’s approach succeeds because of its deep respect for the people it serves.”
Takeaway: To change behavior, let the audience lead
If your brand or business wants people to take action, don’t tell them what to do. Instead, as Tostan teaches us, educate your audience in ways they like to learn and you’ll empower them to change even the most entrenched social norms.
Kenya: Reduce, reuse, recycle and respect
In the remote Masai Mara region north of the Serengeti, I found Cottar’s 1920s Safari Campreminiscent of a bygone era, but its sustainability practices and goal “to become net positive” cutting edge. Cottar’s funds a wildlife trust focused on conservation, community, culture and commerce; irrigates the onsite organic garden with recycled grey water; and is transitioning to solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy — which also seemed to include using elephant dung instead of wood as fuel for heating my shower.
Not only do they reduce and reuse, they also show great respect for the land, animals and people. Cottar’s hires and trains half its staff from surrounding communities, pays wages well above industry averages, and contributes several hundred thousand dollars a year in “land use fees” to the Masai’s regional council for daily access to the game preserve where they take guests on safari. This is even more impressive given that many safari operations in the region illegally build on protected land, exploit the Masai and leave a heavy environmental footprint.
I saw another win-win story in Nairobi, where Ocean Sole recycles thousands of flip-flops littering the beaches and waterways and turns them into hand-crafted animal figurines. This “upcycling” eco-venture is literally turning trash into treasure — creating job opportunities for locals, protecting oceans and wildlife, and educating countless souls worldwide about the threat of marine debris.
Takeaway: Be naturally resourceful
Cottar’s and Ocean Sole prove that even the smallest businesses can leverage natural resources creatively. Just as they use elephant dung and discarded flip-flops to make an impact, perhaps your company can find unconventional and untapped resources to advance your sustainability goals.
Zanzibar, Tanzania: Celebrate diversity
In Zanzibar, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Tanzania, I experienced a culture steeped in history and rich in ethnic diversity, yet seemingly enjoying social harmony.
As the tourism commission website notes, “Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and British have settled here at one time or another and influenced the local culture into the present fusion.” Zanzibar is both a multiracial and multicultural society, with people of many faiths and origins, where almost the entire population is of mixed races, primarily of Arab and African decent blended with local culture.
I saw this diversity on display while strolling the streets during the final evenings of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when families in their finest, multi-colored traditional attire mingled with other locals and tourists. It was also evident in our tour guide Juma, a modest Muslim of African descent who spoke not only English and Swahili but also French, Japanese and Russian.
Another man perhaps best exemplifies the celebration of Zanzibar’s diversity: its most famous native son, Freddie Mercury. The flamboyant former frontman of rock band Queen was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to Persian parents from India, and his memory is still very much alive there thanks to his childhood home that’s now a popular museum.
Takeaway: Be patient but persistent
Achieving harmony among diverse people — whether in a business, a community or even an entire country — takes time. In Zanzibar’s case, it’s taken literally centuries to become the multicultural society it is today. In America, we’re still early in the struggle to overcome racial, religious and other tensions, and we have a long road ahead.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: An embarrassment of riches
Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, is known to boast about its largesse, from having the world’s tallest skyscraper and largest mall to the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. So it’s no surprise that Dubai has an entire “sustainable city” development, enough LEED-certified buildings to make the world’s top 10 list and plans to be the “Capital of the Green Economy” by 2021 — a goal which sustainability leader John Elkington called into question in this GreenBiz article.
In my brief visit, I found that sustainability in Dubai is not only a grand ambition but also a grand conundrum. On the one hand, Dubai is indeed doing environmental sustainability right in many areas, from green buildings and solar farms to desalination and public transportation. But such development, and the society itself, isn’t entirely sustainable or socially progressive when funded by fossil fuel profits, reliant on pervasive human rights abuses of migrant laborers and steadfast in its oppression of women and homosexuals.
In Dubai I caught a glimpse of how a lot of money is a double-edged sword for sustainability: It can help realize visionary plans for sustainable living in a harsh desert climate, yet also fuel the kind grandiose ambitions that result in Dubai’s man-made islands shaped like a giant palm tree(the world’s largest, of course, with high-end homes, shops, hotels and a water park) and islands forming a map of the world. That the latter project has been abandoned due to the 2008 global financial crisis is perhaps the best reminder that our scarce resources could be best applied to saving the islands we have rather than building new ones.
Takeaway: Spend wisely to achieve the attainable
While most of us struggle with a lack of funds rather than an abundance, Dubai is a good reminder to use what we have wisely. Before putting your bets on the best or biggest sustainability accomplishments in the field, focus your scarce resources on achieving outcomes that are meaningful for your business and don’t compromise your values.
West Virginia, United States: Challenge conventional thinking
Business brought me to rural Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where I trained the team at the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute (a client) to tell the story of the groundbreaking work they’re doing in land-based aquaculture, featured in the Time Magazine article “You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon.”
This story starts with the FedEx trucks that deliver salmon larvae from labs around the world to Freshwater — a collection of warehouses on a farm-like property outside town — where the team breeds fish in giant tanks (think above-ground swimming pools), embedding each with a transponder tag to track and optimize their growth based on variations such as feed type, water temperature and fish density. The operation is low impact on many levels, using fish feed made from agricultural byproducts, water that’s re-circulated from the onsite spring, fish waste that’s used as a soil-amendment for nearby farms, and slaughter techniques that are more humane than conventional methods.
The result is farmed — yes, farmed — salmon that’s surprisingly sustainable compared to alternatives, and one promising way we can help achieve the estimated doubling of world food supply that will be needed to feed the earth’s population by 2050.
Takeaway: Swim upstream
Despite the negative perception around farmed fish, Freshwater leaned into this space and found a way to do it better. So, don’t be deterred from taking on the most sticky, unsolved sustainability challenges. Swimming against the current may be more risky, but it also can set you apart as the biggest fish in your pond.
JOHANNESBURG – Another clean-up in Alexandra has left some residents skeptical of the Gauteng government’s efforts to keep their township clean.
On Sunday morning, the Gauteng province relaunched the Bontle ke Bothocampaign, aimed at mobilising the community into successful waste management structures.
“This is not the first clean-up in Alex there’ve been a lot of clean-ups but I think what’s important is that they’ve not been sustainable,” said Lebogang Maile, Gauteng member of the executive committee (MEC) for economic development, environment, agriculture and rural development.
The government wants residents to take responsibility for waste removal.
“It doesn’t help to wait for government and leadership to after a certain period of time to come and clean we need to get to a point where people here will take up this responsibility,” said Maile.
One local resident Walter Molewa said that the rubbish in Stjwetla, an area situated on the banks of the Jukskei river, has been piling up for years.
“Where is Pikitup? They hire people to clean everyday but where do they clean? This rubbish has been here for five years,” said Molewa.
Another resident, Victor Mahlaule, said “We have no life here, there’s no cleanliness.”
Gauteng generates 45 percent of the country’s waste.
With rapid urbanisation, the pressure on waste management infrastructure is overwhelming.
“In the past five years, a million people moved to Gauteng. There’s almost 20,000 people who move into the different parts of our province every month and so it puts lots of pressure on education, healthcare and the demand for housing,” said Gauteng Premier David Makhura.
Levels of waste are high in Stjwetla, with rubbish buried into the river embankment and a large mountain of waste next to communal taps.
“It is hazardous, this is a disaster, this is undesirable, and this is inhuman. We shouldn’t be having a situation like this but it’s unfortunate, it’s a sad reality and we have to do something as government,” said Maile.
Plans include building more parks and vegetable gardens to ensure that the public space is occupied and to deter illegal dumping.
According to authorities, 60% of Gauteng’s waste is recyclable. This, according to Premier Makhura, presents major employment opportunities.
“Recycling can be a source of income for many in our communities so we want to work with them to ensure that we keep our province clean,” said Makhura.
However, after many years and different premiers Molewa said he was tired of false promises.
“Nomvula Mokonyane, Mbazhima Shilowa and Mathole Motshegka didn’t sort this place out. They’re playing games these guys,” he said.
Resident Emmanuel Malatji said, “This kind of problem is going on and on because we don’t have a dustbin, plastic bags and there’s no skip where we can recycle.”
“It’s not that we’re happy to live in a place like this – in this condition. All we need to have a skip where we can through rubbish so they can come and collect it easily,” he said.
The province has already invested R16-million in the programme and are calling on the private sector for more funds.
“We need a lot more money,” said Maile.
The inherent versatility of plastics recycling, including the industry’s ability to recycle most grades and compositions of plastics, contributes strongly to plastics and synthetic fibres’ strong market acceptance, sustainable use and ecofriendliness, says Cape Town-based plastics recycler the Polyolefin Recycling Company (Polyco). Founded in 2011, Polyco promotes the recycling of polyolefin plastics and the countrywide diversion of plastics from landfills. It is joined in this collective plastics recycling effort by Petco, the Southern African Vinyls Association (Sava) and the Polystyrene Packaging Council of South Africa. Print Send to Friend 0 0 According to statistics released by Plastics SA in October, 1.4-million tons of domestic and imported plastics was converted in South Africa in 2014, diverting 315 600 t from landfill sites, which is an increase of 9% from the volume diverted in 2013. Of that, 285 000 t was mechanically recycled and converted into an array of products, ranging from plastic pipes and furniture to shopping bags and paint buckets. Further, statistics from research organisation BMi Research South Africa reveal that 754 430 t of plastic packaging entered the waste stream in 2014 and that 247 959 t was diverted from landfill – a 12.5% increase from 2013.
Polyco CEO Mandy Naude says each one of the associations involved in plastics recycling operates as the ‘conscience’ of the plastics industry, encouraging membership buy-in from plastics manufacturers and spending the membership funds on worthy recycling initiatives. “In the polyolefin niche, we work closely with sister organisations Packaging SA, Plastics SA and the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation,” she adds. Naude notes that polyolefins make up about 70% of plastic packaging in South Africa, adding that they are the main component of tough and sturdy packaging, such as ice cream tubs and milk bottles, and are 100% recyclable.
Polyco operates on a self-sustaining business model, based on the principle of “hand up” rather than “handout”, whereby funds are invested in collection and recycling projects as one-off grants, or interest-free loans repayable within three years. Recently, the organisation awarded R4.6-million in funding to 12 postconsumer polyolefin products collectors. To date, more than R17-million has been pumped into projects throughout South Africa. “By 2020, we expect that R25-million of the projected total R43-million project spend will be repaid loans,” she says. Polyco’s goal is to increase polyolefin recycling in South Africa by 300 000 t over the next five years. “We need to achieve a growth of 275 000 t over the next 15 years, which is ambitious, given that the recycling rate in 2014 was 171 000 t,” notes Naude. Industry Potential Naude describes plastics recycling in South Africa as a vibrant and growing industry. Plastics SA states that formal employment in the sector grew by 34% in 2014 to more than 60 000 workers, with informal employment topping 47 000 personnel.
The number of jobs sustained through plastics recycling has increased year-on-year by 11.4% to around 53 500. However, Naude says more people are needed to assist plastics recycling companies to collect, sort and recycle. Consumer education is also a significant facet of Polyco’s mission. “We constantly communicate the wisdom of recycling and have harnessed the power of social media, like YouTube, to reach the largely untapped youth market,” she says. However, Naude notes that the plastics recycling industry requires government assistance to ensure that infrastructure is in place. “In our experience, many more citizens would become recyclers if they had adequate facilities in their communities,” she says. Early in 2016, Polyco will launch a packaging clean-up team, involving schools and local communities, to raise awareness about the need to clean up and recycle in their own areas.
Naude notes that much needs to be done to bring into the recycling fold those in the packaging industry who do not adhere to the ‘producer pays’ principle and who do not belong to an organisation such as Polyco. She warns that, unless the packaging industry demonstrates that it is acting responsibly in terms of the recycling of its products, government will intervene, which is “bound to be unfavourable for the industry”. She notes that the plastics recycling sector will welcome government making it mandatory for packaging converters to belong to a recycling organisation and for packaging importers to pay a recycling levy to these organisations. “We would also like to see separation-at- source implemented by every municipality in the country to ensure that valuable waste does not end up in landfills,” says Naude, adding that appropriate infra- structure and a change in consumer mindset will take recycling in South Africa closer to the levels it needs to achieve. “Currently, only 10% of South Africans recycle their household waste.
We need to reach the other 90% with the message that recycling is easy and fun,” she concludes.
Across the US, and around the globe, we have echoed a decades-old mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.
For years, this meant making the effort to compost the food, recycle the bottle, or reuse the plastic bag. But through the evolution of the recycling industry, the bar has been raised to attain a higher goal: zero waste.
It is a philosophy that contends every ounce of salvageable trash — that which can still serve a purpose — can be turned into valued commodities. In embracing this philosophy, its proponents say, we can capitalize on resources while taking some of the load off our landfills.
Holly Elmore, Atlanta GA-based Elemental Impact founder and CEO, works with the industry on creating sustainable best practices. Among her work to reach zero waste, she developed Zero Waste Zones, which was acquired by the National Restaurant Association.
While the idea has its merits, one may wonder: is zero waste really achievable? If so, how do you convince a “throw-away” society of this lifestyle? And what are ways to get zero waste to make sense from a logistics and economic perspective?
Waste Dive caught up with Elmore to address these questions and more.
WASTE DIVE: Is Zero Waste attainable? And if so, how do we get there?
HOLLY ELMORE: I do think zero waste is attainable. To get to zero waste, you must recognize which materials have value. Set up a system to recycle it. And reduce … If you are a corporation, begin for instance by asking yourself, are you printing more than you have to? Then you replace. An example: with shipments, tell companies you purchase from you want recyclable packaging. There is power in consumer demand. Once you have reduced and replaced, separate valuable material and find a local recycling option.
What is key to getting the public to buy into zero waste?
ELMORE: You need to cultivate a culture. That culture has to come from the top management down in the case of large organizations. In the community it has to start with the mayor and city council …There should be green team leaders or sustainability leaders who have zero waste responsibilities written in their job descriptions. It should be tied to their compensation and evaluations … There should be good signage and recycling bins. Their use and why we use them should be in newspaper articles. And community leaders should be talking about this … The Georgia World Congress Center is the world’s largest LEED certified conference center. They were one of the nation’s pioneers in the commercial collection of food waste for composting in 2009. You can’t tell me most people are busier than them. But they make the time because this is in their culture.
Can you speak to the role of education in changing a culture?
ELMORE: Education is crucial. Charlotte, NC has an MRF that had low contamination rates, but the community spent mega time educating and rewarding residents on clean recycling. The MRF got great material. When they started accepting from other communities, who had not been educated and did not have comprehensive programs with government support, contamination increased.
What are the biggest roadblocks to obtaining zero waste?
ELMORE: It is that mentality that waste is trash. As long as we view it as trash it will end up in the landfill. We must recognize it as valuable material … determining what is trash and separating it once you have reduced and replaced is where challenges happen … Single-stream recycling is a big problem leading to contamination. According to the Container Recycling Institute, about 25% of material sent to MRFs ends up in landfills due to contamination. And one person or corporation can contaminate an entire single-stream load, with two main contaminants being food and glass.
How do you address this road block?
ELMORE: First know that according to US Zero Waste Business Council, you can only claim 100% zero waste if the entire value chain is zero waste, which includes suppliers, manufacturers and consumers … It’s important to get manufacturers to understand their responsibility for packaging. Packaging should be reusable or recyclable, and labeled as recyclable with clear instructions. Those instructions should include if items need to be separated … If caps are a different plastic than bottles; well, tell us …Consumers can avoid contamination by removing food, and if packer trucks are crushing materials, remove glass.
What is the MRF’s role in working toward zero waste?
ELMORE: First, they should not be there to clean, but to separate. The MRF is simply the destination. Haulers, citizens, and government should take responsibility for clean material. So for MRFs to be affective, consumers [and organizations] must put only clean material into the stream … I think MRFs should fine haulers. Or reject dirty loads. The hauler would have to go to landfills and pay tipping fees.
Can you speak of “benefit of scale” to justify investments made to reach for zero waste?
ELMORE: You need scale for zero waste efforts to make economic sense. It’s expensive to put trucks out there, so you need route density. Cluster pickup places where there are generators of material in a zone. Haulers have to fill that truck to justify overall cost of their routes. Bales of waste to be sold to end markets must be large enough to fill tractor trailers of materials sold by weight … If you travel outside your community, especially, you have to have volume.
How do you get corporations and other business entities to support zero waste goals?
ELMORE: Look at what material is generated in the community, corporations, universities, government and other organizations. If a significant amount of material is generated in the community, for instance, but you don’t have an end market, look at who would use the “commodities.” And attract businesses that could capitalize on it … keep dollars in your community to build a vital local economy, create jobs and new products … and remember, it’s a team effort between businesses, government, citizens … As far as trash collectors, they have to tell municipalities, your citizens are sending contaminated stuff … Let’s work together: the government, businesses, citizens, haulers and MRFs.
TANZANIA and other African countries have expressed concern over the European Union’s proposal to recycle products containing toxic flame retardants into new products such as children’s toys, food containers and soft furnishings.
“We do not want toxic chemicals recycled into toys for African children and we do not think EU children should be playing with them either,” said Prof Jamidu Kitima from Tanzania in a statement made available to this newspaper.
Prof Kitima, the Chairman of Agenda for Environment and Responsible Development- AGENDA, said at a UN meeting of chemicals treaties in Geneva, Switzerland recently that Africa is already receiving e-waste from all over the world under different disguises.
“If the EU proposed standards are adopted, they would increase our toxic burden,” warned Prof Kitima in the wake of the EU push of dangerous clean-up standards for three toxic flame retardant chemicals widely used in building insulation, upholstery and electronics. All three toxic chemicals are listed in the Stockholm Convention for global elimination.
They are ubiquitous in the environment globally and can disrupt human hormone systems, creating potential adverse effects on the development of the nervous system and children’s IQ.
The EU proposal will allow toxic recycled products to be used by EU consumers and then exported to developing countries as waste, transferring the toxic burden from richer countries to poor countries where the capacity to deal with contaminated waste is limited and where they will potentially add to health problems and hamper poverty reduction.
Jindrich Petrlik from Arnika Association in Czech Republic said, “As an EUbased public interest NGO we find it shameful to see the EU violating the integrity of the Stockholm Convention and putting economic interests before human health and the environment. This is poisoning the circular economy.”
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Hisense, a manufacturer of premium consumer electronics and home appliances, is focusing its attention on increasing its green credentials in an attempt to decrease carbon emissions, increase recycling, and creating a closed loop system at their high tech manufacturing facility in Atlantis, Western Cape.
Hisense has always looked for ways to contribute positively toward the environment. The business places an importance on creating products that are energy efficient and which lead the way in green technology. In addition to this, the business looks at ways in which its operations can be more sustainable.
Recycling systems have been put in place to contribute to the bottom line including the environment, strategic initiatives have been implemented to recycle discarded cardboard, bubble-wrap, polystyrene, plastic, foam and other materials.
Ebrahim Khan, Deputy General Manager, Manufacturing Group at Hisense South Africa, says, “When we launched our new manufacturing facility in Atlantis in 2013, we ensured that energy efficiency is part of the core of the products being manufactured at the facility. Sustainability and greening are so important to us that our launch was a green event. Our close collaboration with Bluemoon and Earth Patrol produced a carbon neutral event called ‘Living Legacy’ that proved the industry and sustainability are on par.”
From planting 190 indigenous trees to offset carbon emissions, to using LED lighting, to implementing recycling programmes, initiatives were put in practice throughout the operation aimed at reducing the company’s environmental footprint.
From January – September 2014, Hisense collected 655,780kg of recyclable materials, and saved a total of 2,790,378kg of carbon emissions. Recyclables now heavily outweigh general waste and the figure is improving on a monthly basis – in September, 10,680kg of general wastes vs. 79,954kg of recyclables. Carbon emissions in January measured 154,955kg, and in September, 324,522kg was reported, and landfill volumes have more than tripled too.
To put this into perspective, 2,790,378kg of carbon emissions is equivalent to:
- The annual greenhouse gas emissions from 587 passenger vehicles or;
- The carbon dioxide emissions from burning 1,359 tons of coal or;
- The carbon sequestered by 71,548 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
“Hisense’s future plan centres on a process of implementing a zero-waste to landfill strategy, which is currently in its testing phase. The plan will be implemented in 2015,” explains Khan.
Hisense has made the most of the opportunity to run a sustainable business, and is fully conscious about the environment in which it operates.
Source: Cape Business News