The national lockdown, implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus, seems to have been good for the city centre, and authorities hope it will remain as clean as it was during lockdown, when restrictions are relaxed next week and more people return to work.
City Central Improvement District (CCID) assistant manager for urban management, Kally Benito, concurred, noting that there was a lot less litter in the CBD as well as far fewer cigarette butts in the streets.
“As there were very few people in town, we suspended collection of cigarette butts from the CCID cigarette-butt bins. Usually, we collect about 140kg of cigarette butts a month from the CCID’s 300 cigarette-butt bins.
Ms Benito added: “We have, however, encountered our bins being tipped over as desperate people search for ‘entjies’ following the ban on cigarette sales since (midnight on) March 26.”
The City’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, Xanthea Limberg, said there had been a significant drop in every type of litter that the teams normally cleaned up, from cigarette butts to chip packets, discarded fast food packaging and soft drink cans, among others.
“The City has even been able to reduce the number of staff on duty. This clearly illustrates the difference that can be made to the cleanliness of our shared environments if each person takes responsibility for their waste, neither littering themselves nor staying quiet when they see others causing pollution.”
The City said anecdotal observations for Cape Town, seem to suggest that the lockdown had also helped to improve ambient air quality, with fewer brown haze days visually observed.
Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said while the nationwide lockdown had resulted in a significant reduction in economic activities, industrial processes and traffic on the major road networks, its impact on air quality was not as straightforward, he said.
“One of the consequences of lockdown is that Scientific Services Air Quality labs had to scale down monitoring control activities throughout the City’s ambient air quality monitoring network over this period.
“In addition, the April monthly monitoring data (the period in which the lockdown has had the biggest impact) is not yet available.”
And, he added, the ambient air quality monitoring station at City Hall had been decommissioned because renovations to the facility had affected its suitability to house the station. “A suitable alternative site for this monitoring station is still being secured,” he said.
Internationally, he added, much had been reported on the observed benefits that the international lockdown had had on air quality, in highly polluted parts of the world such as China, Europe and the Asian Sub-Continent.
“It must, however, be noted that these conclusions were drawn from satellite observations, as opposed to ambient air quality monitoring data from air quality monitoring networks.”
He said the limited raw data that the City had, seemed to suggest that the one hour average nitrogen dioxide levels from available data for the city was low, when compared against the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Nitrogen dioxide is the pollutant commonly associated with traffic and other combustion related activities.
“For now let’s enjoy the clear skies and scenic views as a reminder of what the benefits could be, of permanently adopting a new mind set of decongesting our road network through working from home; and the future benefits that large scale adoption of electric vehicle technology could offer residents of Cape Town,” Dr Badroodien said.
The V&A Waterfront has also been quiet, with minimal movement on the water by the Transnet tugs going back and forth supporting commercial shipping coming into the main port.
Waterfront spokesperson Donald Kau said while they did not have a pollution problem because they had cleaning crews on the water and land across the precinct, the numbers of staff had been reduced as less rubbish was being accumulated.
“We typically have a team of more than 40 people operating around the clock. An on-site waste facility allows for separation at source in support of recycling efforts. Of the 6 300 tons of waste collected annually, more than 2 000 tons are diverted from landfill,” he said.
“This will have reduced significantly due to the shutdown of activities in the harbour as well as reduced human traffic.”
Ms Limberg said the City hoped that once the lockdown regulations were eased and the area became busier, people would notice the change and not go back to their old habits.
“We have all been forced to appreciate the freedom we’ve enjoyed under normal circumstances. Freedom of movement has in many cases, however, left a constant trail of debris, and it is hoped that when we return, it will be with a greater acknowledgment of our responsibilities, and that we learn to tread more lightly on our environment.”