Keeping waste out of landfill

 Keeping waste out of landfill

A landfill crisis is looming in Cape Town, as it is in every urban centre. The municipality has drawn a line in the sand in a number of ways , including banning organic waste from landfill by 2027. It’s not quite as dramatic as Day Zero’s water crisis, but the heat is growing around issues of waste management.

The V&A Waterfront, which spans 123 hectares, is effectively a mini-city with 800+ tenants, 2,000+ residents, 13 hotels, about 23 000 people coming to work on the precinct every day, and hosting about 26 million visits annually.

One of the possibilities this presents, and one that the Waterfront takes seriously, is that the Waterfront is uniquely positioned to prototype and test many of the problems experienced by cities nationally and globally.

Which brings us to waste. The Waterfront handles 560–600 tonnes of waste in ordinary months, and up to 800 tonnes during festive-season months. This includes high volumes of organic waste from its hotels, restaurants, and food markets.

To understand what this means, picture:

  • nearly eight Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with waste, or
  • the weight of eight fully loaded commercial airplanes,
  • or the combined weight of approximately 327 double-decker buses

Pretty daunting.

To manage this, the V&A has an on-site Waste Recovery and Recycling Centre, and a partnership with one of Cape Town’s leading waste management companies, WastePlan. The two enterprises have collaborated to usefully redirect more than 400 tonnes of waste monthly from landfills.

Surpassing its initial goal of diverting 50% of waste within two months, the partnership had within a year achieved a waste diversion rate of 70%.

WastePlan recently detailed this in a case study, which is well worth the read.


The Waterfront has little operational control over waste sources, as tenants and their customers are the primary waste generators. Yet, as the landlord, responsibility lies with the Waterfront to dispose of waste responsibly and cost-effectively.

In the spirit that “what you can’t measure, you can’t manage”, it was understood that achieving waste diversion success required meticulous tracking, reporting, and the kind of robust data system offered by modern, effective companies like WastePlan. The detail this requires is eye-watering: every kilogram of waste generated by each tenant is monitored and managed independently, allowing the Waterfront to implement incentives aimed at tenants taking ownership of their waste.

Amongst other measures, the Waterfront has appointed a full-time waste management trainer who spends times with businesses and their employees to understand each business’s environment, and to train the staff in optimal waste management approaches.

WastePlan, for its part, set up a strategic route to move trash. It involves four vehicles, and 400 collection points along the 4km of the route; and runs 24/7.

One cannot expect this kind of intensive process to apply in the geographically much larger and socio-economically more complex and constrained landscape of greater Cape Town. But the Waterfront exercise has proved something: where there’s a will, and where the right partnerships are in place, incremental improvement is only a commitment away.