Tag Archives: Photography

Perceptions of Waste

– Megan Reddering

Since I started recycling three years ago my perceptions of waste have drastically changed. I realized that about seventy-five percent of what I previously took to be waste could actually be recycled. This reduction in my own production of waste has made me more aware of waste and how it comes to be waste. When can something be classified as waste? Is this classification different for different people? Why is there a difference in what people consider to be waste?

In my neighbourhood it is waste and recyclables collection day every Tuesday. I go for a run every Tuesday at six in the morning and I noticed that already at that early time homeless people with their trollies start rushing towards the neighbourhood. Many people put their waste bags and recycle bags out the night before, so these early birds I’ve see migrating up the Dalsig hill are doing so in hope of getting the best pick out of our waste and recyclables.  Whenever I see them digging about in the bins it seems like they are on a kind of a treasure hunt and I am ashamed that what appears to be waste to me and the rest of the neighbourhood seems so precious to them.

This made me think back to the December holidays when I volunteered at a soup kitchen in the industrial area that is right next to one of the informal settlement just outside Plettenberg Bay, and I realized that all the shacks I had seen were made out of things that had been used for other purposes before. I did a lot of work with the children in the area and I was completely blown away with how little they are satisfied with. They made anything they laid their hands on into some kind of toy; old bottles, crates, boxes and ropes are just some of the things I saw them playing with or reusing as it were.

During the time I was volunteering at the soup kitchen a room in the building used for something else previously was being converted into a little classroom to keep the smaller children whose parents cannot afford to send them to crèche off the streets and to provide a safe place for activities for the bigger children during school holidays. While the classroom was being fixed up we did our activities outside on the stoop and the one day one of the kids came running to me very excitedly with a big crumpled and muddy poster he had picked up somewhere, which I could see had previously been used in a classroom and said, “Teacher for classroom” with a huge very proud smile on his face. The poster was in no condition to go up on the wall and I had to throw it away once the children had left.

Looking back on my time at the soup kitchen and seeing the homeless people every Tuesday I have realized that these are perfect examples of how huge the differences are on the view of what waste is in a country like South Africa with such great economic inequalities. I read an article by D. Scott on low carbon citizenship this week and this quote from that article sums up the point I want to make, “The best way to reduce carbon consumption is to be poor.”

December 2012
December 2012
December 2012
December 2012


The value of waste

– Dr Tilla Slabbert

Ten years ago I moved to a small coastal village in the Western Cape where I now live within walking distance from the beach. One of the rituals that came to form part of my life is a diligent gathering of washed-up and discarded garbage whenever I walk the dogs. For most of these years, my immediate neighbour was a seventy something Dutch man who immigrated to South Africa in the late 1950s. I say was, because he sadly passed away less than a year ago. Jan was a real character; a positive and vibrant man who managed to banish one’s own fears of growing older. A true raconteur, he could capture his audience with colourful anecdotes, always ending on a humorous note. He used to laugh heartily at his own jokes. Two years ago, Jan and his wife sold their house and moved to another part of town. In packing up—and to my great disgust—he promptly dumped a load of unwanted waste across the road amongst the fynbos; in the vicinity of one of the footpaths leading to the beach. Broken garden tools, old buckets, a huge fifty gallon drum, and other junk littered the area. My partner and I later removed most of the garbage, but the drum, filled with bags of dog poop, we left behind for the time being, intending to collect it at a later stage, once the stench has faded a little.

Life carries on, one postpones, and after a few months the drum was covered by the resilient vegetation.  Two weeks after his birthday, and the day before his death, I had the honour of hugging Jan’s tall but faded body for the final time.

Recently the municipality removed some of the rooikrans in the neighbourhood and the hacking once again exposed the drum. It now lay rusted and eroded. Walking past it the other day, I thought: Jan is gone, the drum remains. I suddenly realised how self-righteous and selfish one can be when you become selective about what seems precious. Inorganic waste supposedly outlives humans, but could it not serve a purpose when it unearths nostalgia about those no longer visible? Or does it merely become valuable because it has been aestheticized by time? Once it has acquired a kind of weathered appearance, faintly resembling its previous form, like the murky outlines of a memory. The reflection brought another of Jan’s tales to mind.

During his youth on their farm in Holland, he was kicked in the face by a horse, losing all his teeth; he ended up wearing dentures before he turned twenty. On his arrival in South Africa (by ship), he was so pleased with the sight of Cape Town in the distance that he cheered madly, knocking his own dentures from his mouth. The set promptly plonked overboard and disappeared beneath the waters of Table Bay. As I stood staring at the rusty drum, I imagined hearing the teeth clicking with muffled laughter, lolling about somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic. I envisaged them covered with nettle and sea slugs or swaying gently beneath the flux of oceanic silt: out of sight. On the other hand, perhaps there is a sea nymph somewhere on a rock, grinning widely and knowingly at those huge fishing trawlers, harvesting their loot.


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