Down to a fine art 

Down to a fine art 

Seven tonnes of plastic waste have been successfully diverted from polluting the environment thanks to a pioneering new collaboration aiming to change behaviours through art, song, comedy skits, and practical measures.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth’s Revolution Plastics team and South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, and Environmental Affairs partnered with UK-based charity WasteAid to run a pilot study in the Thembisile Hani Local Municipality of Mpumalanga Province.

They combined creative ways to educate people about the dangers of dumping and burning waste. On-the-ground action to increase waste recycling included supporting informal waste collectors and introducing community drop-off points for recyclables. 

Embracing arts-based sensitisation methods such as murals, music, and street theatre skits, the Masibambisane project was accessible to old and young alike, making the messages easily comprehensible and encouraging open discussions. 

Dr Cressida Bowyer, deputy director of Revolution Plastics at the University of Portsmouth, says: “Sensitisation is a vital process for educating communities, raising awareness, and inspiring behaviour change. To make messaging more effective, it’s important for the message creators to reside in the target community, understand local social and cultural contexts, and actively participate in the production of campaign materials.”

“This is a great example of the positive outcomes that can be achieved through collaboration between the third sector, academia, and private sector,” adds Ceris Turner-Bailes, CEO of WasteAid. “The educational and creative elements for this project made it almost impossible for people in the community to ignore our initiative. It sparked interest and helped facilitate important discussions on the steps people could take to improve waste collection and increase recycling.” 

Two murals were created in the project area, featuring clear graphical guides to aid recycling efforts and encourage separation of recyclables at source. Recognising the power of music as a driver for social change, a locally crafted song was composed and performed by talented local waste pickers and musicians, tapping into the emotional resonance that music brings.

The campaign, which ran over three months, showed promising results in such a short period of time. Nearly 21% of community members surveyed now use the community bins for better waste separation and segregation. Most importantly, two-thirds of respondents noted a positive change in their environment, with nearly half attributing the transformation to the presence of community bins. 

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