JD Kirsten's recycling collection igloos

JDK’s interesting household recycling initiative!

Arguably the most important step to driving any environmental initiative is to change behaviour. As with recycling, it is simply difficult to increase recycling rates without increasing  the rate at which recyclables are collected at both the household and company levels, requiring a change in behaviour by both you and I. JD Kirsten, realising the potential wider gains from improved rates of recycling, have adopted a novel approach to onboard its farm workers.

JD Kirsten Table Grapes

Fig. 1: JD Kirsten’s table grape operation in the Paarl region of the Western Cape.

JD Kirsten is a table grape producer in the northern Paarl region of the Western Cape. With a large farm worker base living on-property, roughly 6 tons of household waste was previously sent directly to landfill each month. With the costs associated with municipal waste collection and transport to landfill, this isn’t economical, nor is it efficient from a waste management perspective. Realising this, JDK purchased the infrastructure required to boost collection rates – recycling bins and ‘igloos’ (see Figure 2) – and began to pilot a recycling initiative on their Laborans property in 2014, collecting paper, plastic, glass and tin. However, recognising the need to change behaviour and the value of on-boarding its farm workers, JDK took it one step further and set up a system whereby all revenue generated through the sale of recyclables is invested back into the farm community, completely at the community’s discretion.

JD Kirsten's recycling collection igloos

Fig. 2: JD Kirsten’s recycling collection ‘igloos’ for plastic, glass and paper.

Driving an initiative like this doesn’t take place overnight:  to get the project off its feet, the farm workers were engaged through a series of campaigns, workshops and a quarterly handout (‘The Green Route’), highlighting the need to manage our waste more effectively (for both environmental and economic reasons), explaining the logistics of recyclables collection, separation and transport, and of course, the return of recycling revenue back to the farm workers.

With often complicated on-property housing arrangements (varying household sizes, and often only one or two people within a household that are employed by JDK), clear rules and structure needed to be established regarding the return of recycling revenue back to the farm workers. Revenue generated through the monthly drop-off of recyclables is deposited into a recycling-specific bank account. Each farm specific community (i.e. the farm workers that live on the Laborans property) can then vote on when and how this accumulated revenue can be spent. To simplify the voting process, each household has only one vote, delivered by the registered lessee of each house. Ideas for how the money should be spent can be suggested by any and all, including the children of the community. Some interesting, and very beneficial suggestions have resulted – from the building of a soccer pitch to establishing a new crèche.

The results of the pilot on the Laborans property were so positive that JDK expanded the recycling initiative in 2015 to also include their Irene, Uitkyk and Keurfontein properties, including roughly 200 on-farm residents. The recyclables (paper, plastic, glass and tin) are collected in centralised ‘igloos’ and at other smaller points across the properties (for example, the crèche and management offices). Once the igloos are full, they are transported from the properties to various drop-off points in Paarl, making use of the company’s flatbed trucks. From here, the compressed and bailed recyclables are transported to Cape Town for the actual recycling process (i.e. final sorting, washing, crushing, and chipping).

Impressively, JDK have managed to reduce the volumes of household waste to landfill across these three properties by as much as 50%. The structuring of recycling rebates back to the farm workers, combined with information campaigns and workshops, have gone a long way to achieving this feat. But perhaps more importantly, the recycling initiative has helped to engender a much broader environmental responsibility amongst the farm worker communities, and has planted the seed that decreasing our environmental impacts can go hand-in-hand with economic gains. This has been particularly true for the children of these communities, who often hold their elders to account!

If you would like more specific information on JDK’s recycling initiative, please feel free to contact Blue North at hello@bluenorth.co.za and we can point you in the right direction.