Picking up after the litterbugs

SANRAL teams cleaning up South Africa’s roads

Just some of the thousands of refuse bags filled with trash collected by SANRAL’s routine road maintenance crews every month.

JUNE 5 has been designated by the UN as the people’s day for doing something positive for the environment.

The South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd (SANRAL), however, wants people to stop doing something in order to benefit the environment – littering.

SANRAL’s Environmental Manager Mpati Makoa said it was astonishing what, and how much, people just throw out of their vehicle windows, with little regard on the impact it has.

Cleaning up the mess is expensive and time-consuming, and has become an unfortunate part of what SANRAL has to do right across the country.

Cleaning up the mess is expensive and time-consuming, and has become an unfortunate part of what SANRAL has to do right across the country.

SANRAL reported that a total of 80 601 litter bags were collected during the 2016/17 financial year in the Eastern Cape alone. These were along the N2, R62, Tsitsikamma Toll Plaza, R58, N19, N20, R390, R391 and the R396.

Around 10 cubic metres of litter is collected per day per team on days that debris and litter is collected. In some areas collection is done once a month, while in others it is twice a month. All litter is disposed of at registered local municipal landfill sites at each town along the routes.

Among the items that have been picked up by SANRAL’s routine road maintenance staff are plastic bags full of used nappies, bottles with urine and animal carcasses.

Fast food wrappers, boxes and soft drink bottles are typical litter that is collected on a regular basis on national roads. Loads of household litter in refuse bags is also picked up on the side of the road totalling about 6 – 10 cubic meters in above-mentioned area of the Eastern Cape.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the experience is not much different. The 138 km stretch of road from Umdloti to Empangeni is split into four sections. An emerging sub-contractor is appointed for each section to conduct routine road maintenance and this includes litter-picking.

On this stretch, litter picking is done once a month at the beginning of each month. On average on each of the four sections, 350 bags of litter are picked up at the beginning of each month. On the whole stretch of road, a total of 1 400 bags are picked up monthly.

Looking at major routes in the both the Western and Northern Cape, about 22 000 bags of litter are collected on average, on a monthly basis. Where possible, a sizable portion is diverted away from landfill and used for recycling initiatives, particularly glass and plastic.

Litter also poses a threat to public and ecosystem health as it ends up in water systems and impacting aquatic habitats, clogging our culverts and bridges.

“Picking up litter is part of routine road maintenance duties. It takes 10 days to complete the litter pick-up exercise. All the bags of litter are loaded onto vehicles and offloaded at registered landfill sites along the routes. The strangest items the teams have picked up vary from a wedding ring to strange toys that are best not mentioned,” Makoa said.

“If you throw away a piece of litter each day, it can become a veritable mountain of rubbish by the end of the year. Millions of rands are spent just to clean up litter that many people have thoughtlessly tossed out on the streets and other public spaces. It also poses a threat to public and ecosystem health as it ends up in water systems and impacting aquatic habitats, clogging our culverts and bridges. This, in turn, increases the frequency and cost of infrastructure maintenance.

“Let’s celebrate World Environment Day by not littering,” Makoa urged.

 

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