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Census of mixed green parts

06 November 2012 - 02:09 By Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver

What does the Census tell us about the environment?

People are flooding in to the economic centres of our country. Gauteng, with limited sources of natural resources and water sources, has grown by a third since 1996. This creates a planning and logistical nightmare, with continuing demands on water transfer schemes and logistical supply corridors.

The good news from the Census is that we have successfully increased access to basic services such as housing, water, sanitation and refuse collection. Better services allow people to insulate themselves from the extreme effects of climate change. In the last 10 years, the population without access to water fell from 16% to 9%, and without sanitation from 14% to 5% - at the same time as the population grew by seven million. This means we are becoming more climate resilient, despite the appalling state of local government in many parts of the country.

More households are using electricity for lighting (85% in 2011 compared to 70% in 2001), and fewer households are using paraffin, wood or coal for cooking or heating. This is reducing the impact on natural resources (although our electricity also has a big carbon footprint) and lowering the levels of air pollution and respiratory diseases that affect poorer communities.

At the same time our environmental footprint is growing rapidly. The Census confirms steadily rising household incomes, which are directly reflected in household consumption and goods such as refrigerators, cellphones, televisions and computers. But the Census also highlights the extreme levels of income disparity and joblessness that are still with us. Affluent households are very high consumers and account for the bulk of the country's environmental footprint.

The massive jump in cellphone use from 31.9% in 2001 to 88.9% in 2011 means we are more connected as a society, but with the increase in computers (8.5% in 2001 to 21.4% in 2011) also means more hazardous waste is generated when these goods come to the end of their lives. As a "throw-away" society, most of these goods still end up in landfills.

Surprisingly, we are managing our waste better. The number of households who get a weekly waste service has increased from 52% in 1996 to 62% in 2011.

At the same time the number of households who don't have any waste service has dropped from 10% to 5%. Unfortunately, most of this waste doesn't get recycled, and still gets dumped in landfills.