Role of local communities in waste management in the city of Johannesburg

Under the general population increase and rapid urbanization in South Africa, there has been a congruent and perhaps drastically increase in waste production. The phenomenon is truer in the ‘city of gold’ than anywhere else across the country. Waste management in Johannesburg has become complex and difficult to manage as it transverse beyond waste collection services. The public authority’s capacity to offer adequate and efficient waste management service has been compromised and limited. As a result, many wastes are not collected or treated/disposed-off appropriately, which has caused public health issues and environmental problems. The blemish grimeis hard to miss, supplemented with the smell of rot lingering around the air of Africa’s commercial hub. While these terrible sights are no stranger to the inner city, there is evidence of effort being made to equally meet the challenge. However it seems things have become worse in recent times than before.

Waste management is interlaced with different aspects of a city i.e. public health issues, public space aesthetic, flooding due to urban storm drainage system blocked by waste, and water quality (Gutberlet, 2018). One can only image the frustration of the city in trying to resolve all challenges that emanate from poor waste management. Research indicates that communities don’t necessarily understand the impact of waste on their health and the environment. A drive in the townships and also in certain parts of Johannesburg will reveal shocking state of poor waste management which is either not collected or is illegally dumped in the open space or in the storm water drainage. The City of Johannesburg indicated that the number of households with no formal refuse removal has increased annually at 4.47% and about 7% of households experience backlog.While the waste management service delivery is not adequate, the community’s behaviour of poor waste disposal also worsen the situation. Lack of awareness and community empowerment contribute such.

The city needs multifaceted approach in waste management. The communities generate waste and surely can do more than just waiting for waste collection services. The National Waste management Strategy 2020 stipulates that while the city is responsible of providing waste management services and equipment, communities are encouraged to participate in the different community-based initiatives to improve waste management. The question remains as to how can the communities assist the cities to efficiently deliver waste management services? Kubanza (2020) suggests that the involvement of the communities in the waste management system can complement the system. Communities are required to separate waste at a source/home and recycle to try and reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill. To date the city is only able to divert about 15% of waste from the landfill and the percentage is less compared to the tons of waste that end up in the landfill (City of Johannesburg IDP 2020/21). This is due to lack of participation from the local residents in the waste management initiatives.

Research points that lack of knowledge and awareness on good waste disposal in certain parts of urban communities worsen the problem of waste disposal. Therefore community empowerment and awareness can assist the community to better manage their waste which will ultimately lessen the burden on the city’s waste management system. Other countries such as China have introduced incentives to encourage local communities to participate (Xu et al., 2015).   

The municipality has a mandate to effectively and efficiently manage solid waste in South Africa (South Africa, 2008). Although the municipality is responsible for waste management services, the local residents are encouraged to not only rely on the municipality for waste services but also to play their role in achieving desirable waste management services (Dlamini et al., 2017). I believe that the community can only heed the call to get involve if they are aware of their role and are also empowered to participate in the waste management. Emphasis has been on waste pickers and their role and they have previously been engaged in trying to integrate waste pickers formally in the waste management system. The engagement platform was created sorely for that and did not consider the role of the local residents who are responsible for generating waste and their role in complementing the waste management system. Scheinberg (2012) suggested that there is a need for decision-makers in the city to recognize the community involvement as a key solution for effective waste management.

The Sustainable development goal to make cities sustainable and for residents have access to service delivery will require inclusion of the communities in the plans to achieve these goals. The role of the community need to be clearly defined and the city should make provision to empower the communities to be able to meaningfully participate in proposed community-based initiatives to improve waste management. Establishing partnership with the communities and allow the community to assume ownership of such initiatives will raise public awareness and encourage behavioural change towards waste management. Where initiatives have failed because of lack of participation by the communities, incentives will not be a bad idea.  It is also imperative that the roleof communities is cherished and clearly defined in developing a sustainable and efficient waste management.


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  2. Dlamini, B. R., Rampedi, I. T., &Ifegbesan, A. P. (2017). Community resident’s opinions and perceptions on the effectiveness of wastemanagement and recycling potential in the Umkhanyakude and Zululand District Municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa. Basel. Journal of Sustainability, 9 (10), 1835.
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  5. Guberlet, J. 2018. Waste in the City: challenges and opportunities for Urban Agglomerations. Date of access: 10 Oct. 2020.
  6. Nzalalemba Serge Kubanza (2020): The role of community participation in solid waste management in Sub-Saharan Africa: a study of Orlando East, Johannesburg, South Africa, South African Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1080/03736245.2020.1727772.
  7. Oteng-Ababio, M.; Arguello, J. E. M.; &Gabbay, O. (2013). Solid waste management in African cities: Sorting the facts from the fads in Accra, Ghana. Habitat International, 39, 96–104.
  8. Xu, W.; Zhou, C.; Lan, Y.; Jin, J.; Cao, A. 2015. An incentive-based source separation model for sustainable municipal solid waste management in China. Waste Manag. Res. 33, 469–476.


Master of Environmental Management: North-West University

Takalani W. Radzilani
North-West University

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