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Two South African Women Take On Mission to Tackle Plastic Along One of Worst Rivers For Ocean-Bound Pollution

Two South African women, neither having previous experience in the plastic recycling or waste management industry but with a shared vision of plastic-free rivers and oceans, decided to put their heads together to work towards a sustainable solution to the plastic pollution problem in Cape Town.

Santie Gouws and Ursula van Eck co-founded Sunshine Cleaning to address plastic pollution within neighborhoods that are adjacent to rivers and canals, to prevent such plastic from entering rivers—and ultimately ending up in the ocean.

“Our research led us to the Blue Downs canal and river system, right under our noses in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” they told GNN.

The Netherlands Ocean Cleanup project, which has begun to collect plastic from rivers, too, has identified this particular canal as being amongst the top 1000 most severely plastic polluted river systems on the planet.

The pair realized that in order to achieve a sustainable solution, they would need to gain an understanding of the types, volume, and condition of plastic waste that makes its way to settle on the banks of of their canal. To do so, they would need some expert help—and they found it in South Africa’s largest waste management company.

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“Two weeks into our Covid 19 lockdown we contacted EJ of Enviroserv, with whom Santie had met at a Waste Management Seminar earlier in the year. EJ’s positive open engagement with us and pro-active attitude quickly resulted in a plan of action for a clean-up and waste assessment of the Blue Downs canal banks set for 18 July.”

Coincidentally, it would fall on the 10th anniversary of Mandela Day.

They then engaged Cape Town officials to obtain the necessary permissions, as well as the Blue Downs community, to ensure their buy-in, involvement, and blessing for the clean-up.

“Notwithstanding their challenges of trying to feed hundreds of people, arising as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Blue Downs Community Women Action group and local Ward Councillor Jerome Fitz received us with open arms and gave us their full commitment and support without hesitation.”

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Following a week of some of the most extreme Cape heat, the volunteers were blessed that day with the most spectacular Cape Town weather anyone could wish for—brilliant sunshine and blue sky, with snow still visible on the mountains in the far distance.

Sunshine Cleaning

“Masked, sanitized, and keeping necessary social distancing,” 28 volunteers came together from Enviroserv, Blue Downs Women Action, and the Neighborhood Watch (which offered security from the area being known for gang activities), to join the ward counselor and Santie and Ursula to collect 826 pounds (375kg) of plastic waste from the banks of the canal that morning.

“The Community Women Action ladies supplied piping hot coffee and sandwiches, and even the Neighborhood Watch joined in picking up plastic whilst ensuring our safety.”

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They now await the results of the sorting and assessment of waste from Enviroserv—which also generously provided bags, gloves and masks—that will inform Sunshine Cleaning’s next steps on their journey to save their little corner of the globe from ocean-going plastic pollution.

As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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