Our Burning Planet

PAINTING A PLASTIC PICTURE

Drawing the line – Using art to combat SA’s pollution crisis

Drawing the line – Using art to combat SA’s pollution crisis
A new initiative is taking a novel approach to addressing the plastic waste issue: Street art, theatre and song. This mural was painted in Mpumalanga with the hope of empowering locals and increasing recycling in the area. (Photo: Emma Gaisford)

As levels of plastic pollution continue to threaten the health of ecosystems and people alike, can art bring about more sustainable practices and alleviate the growing crisis?

South Africa’s plastic waste crisis is becoming increasingly evident and research suggests that without intervention, current plastic pollution levels could double by 2040. Now, a new initiative is taking a novel approach to addressing this issue: street art, theatre and song.

The disposal of plastic waste in South Africa leaves a lot to be desired, say residents of Mpumalanga. This is according to a survey conducted by the Revolution Plastics initiative, which found that 87% of participants are not satisfied with how their waste is managed.

This is no surprise given that, in South Africa, about 37% of households do not receive weekly waste removal services and 196 kilotons of household waste is left uncollected, according to the South African Pathways report released by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

This is the case for many of the Mpumalanga locals surveyed, 84% of whom disposed of their plastic waste through open burning and dumping, according to the South African Pathways report.

This is typical of areas like Mpumalanga, says Dr Cressida Bowyer, deputy director of Revolution Plastics.

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“Some waste is taken to the municipal dumpsite if transport is available and the motivation is there,” says Bowyer. But most waste is taken to the nearest dump and discarded or burnt without separating out recyclable materials, she adds.

Open burning only reduces the volume of waste by about 20% and burning plastic waste can release poisonous dioxin particles that do not degrade in nature and can build up in the human body and environment and cause various types of cancer, according to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (Unitar).

Art with a mission

The Revolution Plastics Initiative aims to address the plastics crisis through art, music and theatre.

art ndebele

The goal of the campaign is to teach people that waste has value and that dumping and burning waste impacts heavily on human health. This is accomplished through using trusted community voices from the regional Ndebele culture to overcome cultural and language barriers. (Photo: Emma Gaisford)

The campaign was created in partnership with WasteAid, by University of Portsmouth experts, local artists and waste collectors, with an intention to increase recycling.

“We worked with local musicians to write music and lyrics for a song to promote recycling and why it is important,” says Bowyer.

Tebogo Bhembe, who helped produce the song, says he would like to be a musician and this has been a good opportunity to help his community while gaining recognition for his art.

The goal is to teach people that waste has value, and that dumping and burning waste impacts heavily on human health. This is accomplished through using trusted community voices from the regional Ndebele culture to overcome cultural and language barriers.

The Masibambisane Music Crew wrote a song that has been recorded and a video is currently in production, says Bowyer. “The song will be performed live at community events and the video will be shared on social media,” she said.

The lyrics are aimed at educating locals about recycling and were written by local artist, Muhlangu Nkosinathi. The song shares his experiences as he tries to encourage others to clean their communities. 

“I was picking up litter and people were laughing, but I must clean the environment because it is our fault that the environment is so dirty,” says Nkosinathi.

Waste Aid Theme Song

Verse

I ask that we pick up bottles, papers, and plastic
The old and the young
Let’s work together
And make Kwa-Mhlanga clean
And make things happen
So, the dream can come true
Because we are working together
Reduce reuse we are circulating it

Chorus

Go down
And pick it up
Go down
Pick up the bottle
Go down
Pick up the papers
Go down
Pick up the plastics

The initiative has also “developed two comedic theatre skits featuring a mother and son, where the son is teaching the mum how to recycle”, says Bowyer, who adds that these will be performed live in schools and at community events.

“The use of creative methods engages communities in both novel and familiar ways, and the participatory process of co-creation brings a sense of authenticity, empowerment, ownership and buy-in,” says Bowyer.

art waste

Donald Ntuli, who completed a course in engineering, was responsible for designing the separation bays where recyclable waste is sorted. (Photo: Emma Gaisford)

“There are some places that are so clean, but our environment is so dirty,” says Donald Ntuli.

Ntuli, who completed a course in engineering, was responsible for designing the separation bays where recyclable waste is sorted.

“This course showed me that there was a lot I could do with my bare hands,” says Ntuli. “I wanted to do something good for the community and play a part in cleaning the environment to provide good health,” he adds. DM/OBP

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Absa OBP

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