Willowton Group, one of Africa’s leading edible oil processors and a leader within the broader South African fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, is setting an important example for both industry and local communities with its commitment to a monthly clean-up of one of South Africa’s most polluted rivers, the Baynespruit.
The Baynespruit is a tributary of the Msunduzi River and forms part of the Pietermaritzburg urban catchment, and thus provides significantly to the provision and quality of water within the catchment.
Dr Abie Khan, Willowton’s Group Quality and Food Safety Manager is also involved in the Group’s Sustainability and Environmental initiatives.
He has acknowledged that the river, which originates in the residential area of Northdale and flows approximately nine km through the Willowton Industrial Area before reaching its confluence with the Msunduzi River, is classified as one of the most highly polluted rivers in the region and consistently ranked in the top six most polluted rivers in South Africa.
It is a major contributor to the high levels of pollutants, especially life-threatening E. coli bacteria, that enter the Umgeni water course and ultimately the Indian Ocean.
Recent beach closures resulting from high levels of pollutants washed down from the Midlands rivers following flooding as well as the failure of sewage processing further up the coast has highlighted the impact that poor water quality can have on the broader economy as well as people’s health.
Like most water courses in South Africa, the upper catchment of the Baynespruit River is surrounded by high-density formal residential development, the middle reaches flow through an industrial area while, further downstream, it is bordered by high-density formal and informal settlements.
‘The Baynespruit is classified as one of the most polluted rivers in the region and is associated with poor ecological health which has significant impact on local communities and the environment. Due to the high pollutant loads introduced into the Umgeni system by the Baynespruit, interventions which would result in even low to moderate improvements in water quality of the Baynespruit are likely to contribute significantly to improvements in the overall water quality of the Umgeni catchment,’ said Dr Khan.
Willowton Group is committed to contributing to the clean-up and significant improvement of the Baynespruit and is challenging local industrialists to become actively involved in this improvement project.
‘Together our contribution will be more impactful,’ said Dr Khan.
Most shocking of all, though, it will take the employees of the Willowton Group up to five days to clear the area it has ‘adopted – one-kilometre-long stretch that runs from the bridge at New Greytown Road (Bambatha Road) to the Manning Avenue bridge which is beyond the Willowton manufacturing site.
The January clean-up began on January 13, 2022), mirroring the clean-up done in December 2021 when Willowton team members pulled everything from vehicle parts (bumpers, bonnets etc.), carpets, plastic waste (including plastic packets, bottles, and components from different applications) to paper, cardboard and pretty much anything that one would throw into a bin, from the waterway. All waste collected was disposed of responsibly; all recycling opportunities were explored and executed.
The third clean-up on Tuesday February 15 will ensure this river is clear of all refuse as it runs into the Msunduzi river for the annual Duzi canoe marathon that starts on the February 17, 2022.
‘The Willowton Group is committed to cleaning its ‘adopted” stretch of river every month from now onwards,’ declared Dr Khan.
‘The Willowton Group is challenging our neighbouring industries along the Baynespruit to join the river clean-up,’ Dr Khan added.
He went on to explain that Willowton Group had been involved in clean-up initiatives for decades on an informal scale. Recent incidents, which included an unfortunate spillage from its own plant which resulted in pollution of the Baynespruit and associated rivers, inspired the company to not only clean-up after this incident and put measures in place to prevent any repeat problems but also to make a commitment to ongoing efforts to protect its immediate environment.
‘To this end, the Willowton Group and DUCT (Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust) were founder members in establishing the Baynespruit Conservancy in 2020 and the clean-up is just one of the initiatives in which we are involved,’ he said.
However, as Dr Khan pointed out, cleaning up a single stretch of river is, quite literally, just a drop in an ocean of waterborne pollution in South Africa.
‘However, if the neighbours of the rivers in our province and country take hands with local authorities, NGOs and communities we believe we will see a significant improvement over time.
‘Unfortunately, the clean-up needs to be all-inclusive from upstream to be truly effective. If waste is thrown into the river upstream of the adopted spot, it will contaminate the cleaned-up area. Hence, we need to encourage other players to adopt and look after their areas to ensure that the full span of the river is taken care of,’ he stressed.
This initiative is one of many that the Willowton Group is involved in to make a difference in people’s everyday lives.
- Distributed by Shirley Williams Communications