The Women Working to Save One of Cape Town's Most Polluted Rivers

Sunshine Cleaning co-founders Santie Gouws and Ursula van Eck teamed up with local organisations to clean the Blue Downs canal and river system—one of the most polluted in the world.

03.08.2020 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Santie Gouws and Ursula van Eck have a vision—to see rivers and oceans free of plastic pollution.

Although they had no experience in waste management or recycling, this drive led them to found Sunshine Cleaning, a South African organisation with a mission to clean pollution in neighbourhoods near rivers and canals.

“Ultimately, we would like to see these canals and riverbanks restored and rejuvenated for the enjoyment of the communities who live there,” they explained, according to The Good Things Guy.

By doing so, the company aims to prevent plastic pollution from entering bodies of water and ending up in the world’s oceans.

Ultimately, Gouws and van Eck decided to focus on Blue Downs in South Africa. According to the Ocean Cleanup project, this is one of the top 1,000 most profoundly polluted river systems in the world.

“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,” the duo explained.


Sunshine Cleaning volunteers

Santie Gouws and Ursula van Eck with Blue Downs canal clean-up volunteers. Photo by Sunshine Cleaning/GNN


Gouws and van Eck teamed up with South Africa’s largest waste management company to find a sustainable solution to this problem. In addition to understanding the conditions of the plastic waste that settles on the banks of the canal, they needed more knowledge about the specific types of plastic and the volume.

“Two weeks into our COVID-19 lockdown we contacted EJ of Enviroserv, a local waste management company, with whom Santie had met at a Waste Management Seminar earlier in the year,” the company explained.

“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 falling during Plastic Free July, as well as on the 10th anniversary of Mandela Day.”

The pair also worked with Cape Town officials and the local Blue Downs community to obtain permits and generate awareness of the clean-up project, as well as their buy-in, involvement and blessing.

“Notwithstanding their challenges of trying to feed hundreds of people, arising as a result of the Covid 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,” they recalled.

A total of 28 volunteers came together from Enviroserv, Blue Downs Community Women Action and the Neighborhood Watch worked together to collect 375 kg (826 pounds) of plastic waste 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.”

Once Enviroserv finishes the sorting and assessment of waste, Sunshine Cleaning will continue on its journey to clean up local communities and restore nature for future generations to enjoy.

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