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British university teams up with South African artists to tackle plastic waste

An innovative scheme to reduce illegal waste dumping and increase recycling in South Africa has begun, thanks to the support of experts from the University of Portsmouth and a group of artists in the country.

Dr Cressida Bowyer, Deputy Director of the university’s Revolution Plastics programme, specialises in creative methods to change human behaviours around waste and pollution. During a recent trip to the country, she met with local artists and musicians, who will co-design and produce murals, street art, music and recycling interventions.

The university will work with the artists to develop arts-based behaviour change campaigns to drive improved collection, separation, sorting, and recycling of plastics at the household level.

The project aims to reduce the illegal dumping of plastic waste, increase recycling rates and understand why there is a lack of knowledge and resources for waste collection. Dr Bowyer is hopeful that her team can help locals in Mpumalanga achieve a 70 per cent recycling rate for plastic by 2025.

The idea came about following an exploratory trip by Dr Bowyer, when she met with local communities in the Mpumalanga province, a two-hour drive from Johannesburg. Dr Bowyer got to see the uncontrolled mountains of plastic rubbish on the landscape, which she says was becoming a serious threat to the environment and human health, with the waste often burnt on the spot.

The project is being funded by the UK charity the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) alongside the UK government. The university will also work closely with WasteAid – an international organisation that works with communities around the world to build circular waste and recycling systems to benefit current and future generations.