Beachfront hit by ‘trash tornado’
Environmental consultant warns of dire consequences after revellers leave mountains of rubbish behind
Beach-lovers woke up to the after-effects of a “trash tornado” on the Port Elizabeth beachfront on Wednesday.
Beaches, lawns, gardens, walkways and carparks were covered in piles of rubbish left behind by people celebrating the first night of 2019.
Shortly after dawn the brisk offshore wind was blowing papers and plastic into the sea and seagulls were scavenging busily.
The sight had regular members of the Hobie Beach early morning swimming group retreating in disgust and coffeeshop managers shaking their heads in anger at the debris banked up outside their doors.
By 7.30am, teams of metro waste-pickers had been deployed and were starting to make inroads into the mounds of food and packaging waste and broken bottles.
But unless the source of the problem was urgently addressed it would wreck the fabric of Port Elizabeth, local environmental consultant Dr Mike Cohen, former director of Eastern Cape Nature Conservation, said.
“The tourists will dwindle. There will be fewer fish uncontaminated by plastic pollution, and a resultant food shortage.”
The problem needed to be tackled with a carrot and stick approach, he said. “The carrot should be having a clean environment that we can enjoy and use to generate sustainable jobs and wealth.
“The stick should be wielded via visible policing, by officials who step in and instruct litter bugs to pick up what they’ve just discarded, and issue fines where necessary.”
Greater efforts needed to be made to create awareness through school and community education programmes, he said. On the other end of the spectrum, awareness about litter should be tackled by boosting the status of the workers employed to clean up the mess.
“It’s a horrible job but a crucial one. At the moment litter picking is regarded as the lowliest form of employment and this needs to change in terms of the respect we give these people and how much they are paid.”
If the public did their bit and a spotless environment was achieved, this would not make municipal cleanup staff redundant, he said.
“There are a myriad important environmental and socioeconomic improvement projects to tackle, for instance the clearing of alien vegetation.”
Metro spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki said the municipality had in fact improved its focus on the beachfront festive season litter issue with bigger litter-picker teams and intensified monitoring.
“On the other hand, however, we have increased numbers of people flocking to the beachfront. This year from Kings Beach to Hobie Beach alone for the December 31-January 1 event it is estimated that there were 60,000 people.”
The metro hired an extra 200 Expanded Public Works Programme recruits to bolster its beach cleanup team at the start of the festive season through to the end of January, at a cost of R2.9m. Only 14 of them turned up initially for work but replacements were quickly slotted in and there had been “on average good attendance”, Mniki said.
He said the issue of litter was a joint responsibility of the municipality and its citizens.
It was being addressed primarily through awareness spearheaded by its War on Waste environmental education bus which visited schools, taxi ranks and other points.
“There is also an enforcement element where people can be fined up to R2,000 for littering.” Pressed on this point, Mniki said a number of these fines had been dispensed in cases where rubbish had been illegally dumped out of a bakkie.
No data was immediately available regarding the fining of litterbugs, however...