It’s easy to get caught up the swirl of negative news that is circulated by major broadcasters and publications daily in our country. However, we are increasingly hearing of exciting new projects and initiatives that are creating positive change! One such community is the town of Greyton which has set out an ambitious goal: to become the first zero waste city in South Africa. We were fortunate enough to get in touch with Nicola Vernon, chairperson of the Greyton Transition Town board, who also agreed to share information with us on the organisation’s work. This is what Nicola had to say…
Greyton Transition Town (GTT) is a community-based, non-profit organisation that seeks to inspire and empower the people of Greyton and neighbouring communities to work together to achieve sustainability and resilience in the face of rising energy and food costs, economic crisis and environmental degradation. We are part of the worldwide Transition movement and the first official transition town in South Africa. Greyton has a bold vision for the future. It’s ambitious and far-reaching and completely achievable.
The village has committed to being able to say the following in the year 2030:
We are a community which owns, generates and saves energy together for the benefit of a wider community. Residents are personally responsible for litter. Household and commercial waste is kept to the absolute minimum. The inevitable solid waste generated by the community is viewed as a form of income. All sanitation is processed ecologically.
We set out our vision in 2012 so how are we doing so far?
Our first step was to gain some credibility by working hard on the ground with projects that would have an immediate and visible impact.
In the field of waste, we established South Africa’s first festival on a dumpsite to bring people to an area normally only visited quickly to dump waste, and keep them there, enjoying live music, healthy food, environmental workshops and children’s competitions. Now in its third year, the Trash to Treasure Festival is gaining popularity and has done much to show our community that there is no ‘away’ and that every piece of litter dumped in Greyton in the past 150 years is still here.
A large part of the dumpsite has now been rehabilitated and fenced in to create a Green Park, providing a community space where the charity Greenpop has helped us to plant over 50 fruit trees (the start of the Greyton Fruit Forest) and where we have built South Africa’s first ecobrick construction, an outdoor classroom. Garden waste is removed from the waste stream where it had hitherto been bulking up the landfill, and is processed into wood chips, biochar and compost and sold back into the community to support the work of the two men employed at the Green Park.
Ecobricks are plastic bottles stuffed with non-recyclable waste. They can be used as building blocks when sequestered in clay where they will last for hundreds if not thousands of years, ingeniously turning the indestructible nature of plastic waste into a positive. There is scarcely a household in Greyton that does not feature an Ecobrick on its kitchen windowsill and we are on our way to having sufficient to build a small youth centre for the Red Cross.
Our after school environmental awareness programme brings eco-activities to nearly 150 local children who are becoming firm activists, participating in community clean-up days where they show, by example, that they are no longer prepared to tolerate careless littering by the community. They enjoy the facilities at the Green Park and are now so disgusted by the sight of the landfill that they are influencing their families to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
In June 2014 Greyton declared its intention to become the first community in South Africa to phase out the single use plastic shopping bag. The amount of plastic bags being used weekly in the village has diminished by tens of thousands and we are about to enter the second phase of the campaign to remove them altogether. In this we are being assisted by Environmental Campaigner Hayley McLellan of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. who is running the national Rethink the Bag campaign which aims to ban the single use plastic shopping bag from South Africa. Such an initiative would prevent 38,336,000 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
GTT runs four swop shops. Adults and children in need bring their recyclable waste to a depot where they get vouchers for each bag brought in which they can exchange in an on-site swop shop for essentials such as clothing, blankets, stationery and food. High end waste is provided by local retailers. The swop shops are in Genadendal, Caledon, Riviersonderend and Villiersdorp.
There is a long road to travel before South Africa can take advantage of its position as the third country in the world with the most hours of sunshine. Our winds and sunshine provide us with the ideal opportunity to invest in renewable energies and the wheels of progress are beginning to turn - slowly.
Pioneers in this field are having a particularly challenging time and Greyton Transition Town is no exception. Our first step towards our ambition is to install solar panels on the roofs of public buildings, particularly schools, thereby reducing their electricity bills dramatically and allowing them to spend more funds on teachers and resources.
We have been fortunate to attract some input from top consultants in this field and are moving towards our first installation, a solar array on the roof of the Emil Weder High School in Genadendal. At present there’s little provision for feed-in tariffs that would allow the school to sell electricity to the grid and it’s hard to attract investors, but not impossible. We are working hard towards implementation and expect significant progress to be made over the next twelve months.
A Model Community
Community buy-in is essential and GTT has been gathering support and enthusiasm as its programmes continue to touch on each and every resident in one way or the other. Central to buy-in is to convince the community that change is possible. GTT has recently acquired the lease on a sixty bed former school hostel and backpackers which is being transformed into a centre of environmental education and learning.
The Greyton EcoLodge will continue to offer affordable accommodation in the heart of the village but will focus on attracting schools and groups with an interest in learning about and contributing to the care of our planet. The EcoLodge itself will be a model of sustainability with biomass digesters, renewable energy, biodynamic vegetable gardens and environmentally friendly practices. It will soon become in microcosm what is aimed for Greyton by 2030.
Perhaps the most telling evidence that GTT is on the right track is the fact that no less than fourteen people have moved to Greyton because it is a Transition Town.