Take Action

Solving the Problem

It’s never only what the Municipality or government does, just as it’s never only about what you do. Water quality now, and for future generations, is everyone’s problem – so while the authorities have clearly defined responsibilities, everyone has a role to play.

Together, how can we reduce water pollution?

Change Household Habits

You can lower the strain you put on wastewater treatment facilities, rivers and oceans by using chemical products wisely. The water, as well as whatever chemicals and waste, that you flush down drains, sinks, toilets, etc. is destined for discharge into the ocean or other water bodies as either raw sewage or treated wastewater.

Every person in Cape Town can help to reduce the amount of marine pollution with a few simple changes of habit:

  • Limit the chemicals you buy. Do you need everything you put in your shopping trolley? Could you use a cake of soap instead of a bottle full of noxious chemicals? Could you use lemon juice or vinegar instead of a surface cleaner?
  • Buy biodegradable housecleaning products instead of commercial chemicals.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides. Don’t put rat or cockroach poison out, rather use bait and traps.
  • Avoid Teflon and Scotchguard products
  • Do not take medication unnecessarily and never take more than the prescribed amount- it mostly goes through your body as waste into the ocean via the sewerage system.
  • Take leftover pharmaceuticals back to the pharmacy for medical disposal. Don’t flush them down the loo!
  • Never flush any solids other than faeces down the toilet
  • Do not dispose of nappies, female hygiene products, ear buds and cigarette butts down the toilet. This can lead to sewer blockages and resultant overflows into the stormwater drainage system, with a subsequent impact on coastal water quality.
  • Fats, oils and grease don’t belong in drains, sinks or toilets: they can block pipes. Soak up with paper and discard as solid waste
  • Take used car oil to a mechanic to dispose of it. Don’t put it in stormwater drains — this will take it straight to the ocean.
  • Do not throw anything into stormwater drains, including pet waste, garden clippings, street sweepings and other waste.
  • Stormwater will ultimately flow into a river, estuary or the sea, transferring this foreign material and the associated contaminants into these waters.
  • Keep the road verge near your home or business property clean. This will prevent foreign matter from causing blockages in the stormwater system or ending up on the coast.
  • Stormwater is a major factor affecting coastal water quality in cities. Direct rainwater runoff from paved and tarred surfaces and roofs at your home and business property onto vegetated areas wherever possible. Use pavers with gaps on driveways. This will reduce the amount of runoff entering the stormwater system and retain contaminants in the runoff.
  • Never allow gutters to be piped into the sewers. This causes flooding at waste water treatment plants when there is heavy rain — that causes spills into rivers.
  • Get involved in Beach Cleanups, River Clean Ups, Vlei Clean Ups. Organise a few!
  • Don’t dump rubbish. Ever.
  • Limit the chemicals you buy. Do you need everything you put in your shopping trolley? Could you use a cake of soap instead of a bottle full of noxious chemicals? Could you use lemon juice or vinegar instead of a surface cleaner?
  • Buy biodegradable housecleaning products instead of commercial chemicals.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides. Don’t put rat or cockroach poison out, rather use bait and traps.
  • Avoid Teflon and Scotchguard products
  • Do not take medication unnecessarily and never take more than the prescribed amount- it mostly goes through your body as waste into the ocean via the sewerage system.
  • Take leftover pharmaceuticals back to the pharmacy for medical disposal. Don’t flush them down the loo!
  • Never flush any solids other than faeces down the toilet
  • Do not dispose of nappies, female hygiene products, ear buds and cigarette butts down the toilet. This can lead to sewer blockages and resultant overflows into the stormwater drainage system, with a subsequent impact on coastal water quality.
  • Fats, oils and grease don’t belong in drains, sinks or toilets: they can block pipes. Soak up with paper and discard as solid waste
  • Take used car oil to a mechanic to dispose of it. Don’t put it in stormwater drains — this will take it straight to the ocean.
  • Do not throw anything into stormwater drains, including pet waste, garden clippings, street sweepings and other waste.
  • Stormwater will ultimately flow into a river, estuary or the sea, transferring this foreign material and the associated contaminants into these waters.
  • Keep the road verge near your home or business property clean. This will prevent foreign matter from causing blockages in the stormwater system or ending up on the coast.
  • Stormwater is a major factor affecting coastal water quality in cities. Direct rainwater runoff from paved and tarred surfaces and roofs at your home and business property onto vegetated areas wherever possible. Use pavers with gaps on driveways. This will reduce the amount of runoff entering the stormwater system and retain contaminants in the runoff.
  • Never allow gutters to be piped into the sewers. This causes flooding at waste water treatment plants when there is heavy rain — that causes spills into rivers.
  • Get involved in Beach Cleanups, River Clean Ups, Vlei Clean Ups. Organise a few!
  • Don’t dump rubbish. Ever.

Change Your Shopping Habits

  • Ask your supermarket to STOP STOCKING PERSISTENT POLLUTANTS like RoundUp, Insecticides and Teflon.
  • Avoid washing powders, creams and shampoos with microbeads in them.
  • Do not use bath salts, perfumed lotions or perfumed bubble bath, ever!
  • Avoid personal care products containing perfumes, foaming agents, surfactants, etc.
  • Do not purchase pesticides or herbicides unless absolutely essential and then minimize their use.
  • Ask your supermarket to stock more affordable, eco-friendly options.
  • Look for neighbourhood distributors of affordable eco-friendly household cleaners.
  • Avoid plastic bags, and plastic products.
  • Get to know what the Persistent Organic Pollutants (PoPs) are – and avoid them.
  • Read labels and check carefully what chemical ingredients are in what you buy.

The Chemical Maze

The chemicals in most household products are listed in this App: The Chemical Maze – Shopping Companion App which makes it simpler and easier to recognise food additives and cosmetic ingredients that may cause discomfort and ill-health. The Chemical Maze App is based on the international best-selling book The Chemical Maze, written by Australian Bill Statham, with more than a decade of ongoing research. Find it on the App Store or Google Play.

Chemical Maze

Community: Caring for the Commons

Here are some actions you can take at the beach, at home and at work to help improve coastal water quality and reduce your impact on marine pollution.

  • If you walk your dog on a dog-friendly beach, remove and properly dispose of your animal’s waste. Do not bury it in the sand. Dog waste contains high numbers of bacteria and pathogens, which affect water quality.
  • Do not leave food and other waste on the beach. Food waste can attract birds and rats, which are sources of faecal bacteria and pathogens.
  • If you enjoy beach walks, take a bag with you for collecting plastic and other trash during your walk. Even if you collect and properly dispose of only a few items of waste, every bit helps.
  • Restaurants and households should properly dispose of fat, oil and grease. These substances should never be poured down the drain. This can lead to sewer blockages and overflows into the stormwater drainage system, affecting coastal water quality.
  • Do not litter. Rain can wash litter items into stormwater systems, ultimately ending up in our rivers, estuaries or the sea. Plastic is a major pollutant of coastal waters.
  • Report any pollution incidents you might come across to the City of Cape Town.

Pollution flowing out of Diep River at Milnerton Lagoon. Jean Tresfon

Engage the Municipality

  • Report blocked sewers to the Council: Customer call centre: 0860 103 089 or Email: contact.us@capetown.gov.za
  • Read the City’s reports on ocean water quality, and ask why this information has for so long been kept secret.
  • Know the Constitution. Search for “information” in it, and see how many times it guarantees your access to information.
  • Attend Ratepayer Association meetings and support public access to information on river and vlei water quality, and sea water quality.
  • Help your Ratepayer Association demand the right to release water quality results. Currently, Cape Town Ratepayer Associations only get water quality figures subject to signing a non-disclosure agreement. We believe this to be unconstitutional. Support independent river and sea water quality testing.
  • Citizen Science dialogue with the city evens the power disparity, and allows you to ask clear questions about data.
  • Support the call for better Beach Management — using modelling and the precautionary principle, not only E. coli counts that come too late to prevent harm.
  • Support the water governance officials who are trying to release data, often in the face of opposition from political figures who worry more about damage to their careers or their party, than damage to your health.
  • Support Conservationists who are trying to get better water management – they are vulnerable to budget cuts if they work alone.
  • Support Community Organisations calling for rivers to be cleaned up.
  • Report illegal dumping, and dirty rivers. Call for river clean ups to be regular City activities.
  • Vote. Attend voter meetings. Hold your local political representative to account for City decisions about water: because Water Is Life.
Household chemicals

Empower Yourself to Make a Difference

Learn About Chemicals

Have your eyes or throat ever felt irritated after you’ve cleaned your kitchen or bathroom? Do you sometimes get a headache after using a carpet cleaning agent? Some common household and cleaning products – such as soaps, air fresheners and polishes – can include harmful chemicals, which can have a detrimental effect on your health.

As consumers become more aware that chemicals found in many cleaning products present risks to human health and the environment, people are looking for more natural cleaning solutions. The effect of toxins on your health and the environment has become clear with more studies linking household products to cancers, endocrine disruption and other ill effects.

What to look out for

Although most cleaners don’t list ingredients, you can learn something about a product’s hazards by reading its label. Avoid cleaners marked “Danger” or “Poison” on the label, and look out for other hazard warnings, such as “corrosive” or “may cause burns.” Avoid products that list active ingredients of chlorine or ammonia, which can cause respiratory and skin irritation and will create toxic fumes if accidentally mixed together. When ingredients are listed on the packaging, choose products made with plant-based, instead of petroleum-based, ingredients. Read more here >.

Toxins in everyday life

No one can avoid exposure to harmful chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it significantly. Below are some of the worst toxic chemicals commonly found in household cleaning products:

Phthalates

Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.

Why are they harmful?

  • Very harmful chemical class of compounds
  • Low levels of exposure may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Contact with skin or eyes may cause irritation
  • High levels of exposure may cause organ damage (liver, kidneys, central nervous system)
  • May cause damage to the reproductive system; may cause issues with fertility or harm to unborn children.

Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.

Why are they harmful?

  • Contact with skin or eyes may cause irritation (at low levels of exposure).
  • Low levels of exposure may also cause nausea, vomiting, respiratory problems (difficulty with breathing), cardiac problems (chest pain, irregular heartbeat), headache, drowsiness, dizziness, disorientation, mood swings, loss of coordination, blurred vision, lung congestion, kidney damage, liver damage
  • High levels of exposure may cause nausea, stomach pains, appetite loss, irritation, irregular sleep, headaches, pain in extremities, dizziness, disorientation, drowsiness, central nervous system problems (loss of coordination or blurred vision), hormonal disorders, internal bleeding, organ damage (brain, heart or liver), tumors
  • High levels of exposure may also have a carcinogenic effect (may cause cancer in humans)
  • High levels of exposure may also result in birth defects.

Triclosan

Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial.”

Why is it harmful?

  • Highly toxic to aquatic organisms, with long-term effects.
  • Contact with skin or eyes may cause irritation.

Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.” These are surfactants that are to be avoided.

Why are they harmful?

  • Harmful to aquatic organisms.
  • Contact with skin or eyes may cause severe burns and result in long-term damage to eyesight.

2‑Butoxyethanol

Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Why is it harmful?

  • Flammable liquid
  • Contact with skin or eyes may cause irritation.

Ammonia

Found in: Polishing agents for kitchen and bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

Why is it harmful?

  • In gas form, ammonia reacts with water (moisture) on skin, eyes, respiratory and mouth to form ammonium hydroxide (a highly corrosive chemical compound).
  • Contact with skin and eyes may cause irritation, burns, long-term tissue damage, inflammation or edema.
  • Inhalation may cause irritation to the respiratory tract or coughing (at low levels of exposure). High levels of exposure may result in severe burns to the respiratory system and may cause respiratory failure.
  • Ingestion (swallowing) may cause burns to the gastrointestinal tract, constriction of the throat, shock, vomiting and/or convulsions.

Chlorine

Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

Why is it harmful?

  • Highly toxic to aquatic organisms.
  • Chlorine dissolved in water forms an acidic and is highly corrosive.
  • Contact with skin may cause pain or burns (and potentially frostbite).
  • Contact with eyes may result in pain, blurred eyesight, severe burns or long-term damage.
  • If inhaled, may cause irritation/burning sensation to respiratory tract or may cause problems with breathing, coughing, headache, dizzy spells or nausea.

Sodium Hydroxide (aka caustic soda)

Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

Why is it harmful?

  • In solid form, sodium hydroxide will absorb water (moisture) from the air.
  • Sodium hydroxide is highly corrosive.
  • Depending on the level of exposure, sodium hydroxide may cause irritation to the eyes, skin as well as the digestive and respiratory system.
  • Or high levels of exposure to sodium hydroxide may cause burns to eyes, skin or mucous membranes (including the digestive and respiratory tract).

Pharmaceuticals

Understand the impact of your pharmaceutical choices. The medicines and drugs you consume have very specific uses in our bodies, but do we know what happens to them after their effect has been felt?

The list below are some of the persistent chemical compounds found in many ordinary pharmaceuticals products, but may pass through our bodies into sewage waste water. They do not easily break down in the waste water treatment process, escaping via the effluents discharged from the process and are being washed out into our river and ocean systems. These forever chemicals have been found in the ocean marine life around Cape Town through research done by the Environmental Nano-Sciences Group at the University of the Western Cape with Professor Leslie Petrik and students. You can read more about the work here and the paper here.

Acetaminophen (ACT) aka Paracetamol

Common brand: Panadol and Tylenol
Uses: This drug is used to treat mild to moderate pain (from headaches, menstrual periods, toothaches, backaches, osteoarthritis, or cold/flu aches and pains) and to reduce fever.

Lamivudine (LA) aka 3TC

Common brand: Epzicom, Epivir-HBV and Epivir.
Uses: It is an antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. It is also used to treat chronic hepatitis B when other options are not possible. It is effective against both HIV‑1 and HIV‑2.

Sulfamethoxazole (SUL)

Common brand: Bactrim: Septra and Sulfatrim.
Uses: An antibiotic used for bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, bronchitis, and prostatitis and is effective against both gram negative and positive bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli.

Carbamazepine (CAR)

Common brand: Tegretol, Equetro, Epitol, Tegretol XR, Carbamazepine Chewtabs, Carbamazepine CR, Carbatrol, Teril, Carnexiv.
Uses: An anticonvulsant medication used primarily in the treatment of epilepsy and neuropathic pain. It works by decreasing nerve impulses that cause seizures and nerve pain, such as trigeminal neuralgia and diabetic neuropathy. Carbamazepine is also used to treat bipolar disorder.

Phenytoin (PHE)

Common brand: Dilantin, Phenytek, and Epanutin.
Uses: To prevent and control seizures (also called an anticonvulsant or antiepileptic drug). It works by reducing the spread of seizure activity in the brain.

Caffeine

Found in: tea, coffee, and cacao plants
Uses: A natural stimulant. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant of the methylxanthine class. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug.

Diclofenac (DCF)

Common brand: Zorvolex, Cambia, Dyloject, Voltaren-XR
Uses: A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It is taken by mouth, rectally in a suppository, used by injection, or applied to the skin. It’s used to treat aches and pains, as well as problems with joints, muscles and bones.  These include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout
  • sprains and strains in muscles and ligaments
  • back pain
  • ankylosing spondylitis — this causes inflammation of the spine and other parts of the body
  • toothache
  • migraine

Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Making your own cleaning products is a great way to reduce plastic pollution and avoid harmful chemicals in your home. A few safe, simple ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax, aided by a little elbow grease and a coarse sponge for scrubbing, can take care of most household cleaning needs. And they can save you lots of money wasted on unnecessary, specialized cleaners!

Non-Toxic DIY Home Cleaning

No chemicals. No fumes. No harm. Here are a few economical and multi-use ingredients that are good to have in your home:

Baking Soda (Bicarbonate of Soda): A natural deodorizer that can keep fridges and floors (if scattered onto carpet before vacuuming) smelling fresh. It is also a gentle abrasive and can be used to brighten and clean almost all surfaces, either as a paste or if sprinkled onto stubborn sticky surfaces and allowed to “set” before rinsing.

Borax (Sodium Borate):  Effective in disinfecting bathroom and kitchen surfaces, as well as removing stains if mixed with a small amount of liquid soap to form a paste and rubbed onto the affected area before washing in the machine. It also makes an effective ant poison when mixed with sugar. Extra care should be taken when handling Sodium Borate, as it can be toxic when ingested.

Hydrogen Peroxide: Non-toxic and safe (even in a home with children and/or companion animals) with a lot of cleaning power. It breaks down into water and oxygen.

Lemon Juice: Effective in cleaning grease and mould (or mildew) and can also be combined with other ingredients such as oil or vinegar to improve cleaning power whilst leaving everything smelling fresh!

(White) Vinegar: Tough on grease, limescale and soap scum due to its slightly acidic properties, and gentle enough to use on wood flooring. The simplest vinegar mixture is made from half (½) cup of vinegar and water in either a bucket or spray bottle but it can be used undiluted for tough dirt, grease or stains.

Castile Soap: A versatile soap made from vegetable oil, rather than animal fats and synthetic ingredients. This natural, nontoxic, soap is cruelty free and completely biodegradable. Originally from Spain and made with olive oil, nowadays, the soap is made from a variety of vegetable-derived oils, including coconut, castor, avocado, almond or hemp oils.

Essential Oils: Great for cleaning power and fragrance (e.g. eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, rosemary, tea tree or thyme – all of which are antibacterial and antiseptic)

Recipes for DIY Products

All-Purpose Cleaner

For an all-purpose cleaner which can be used to clean taps, the table, or toilet, mix two (2) cups of water with one (1) cup of hydrogen peroxide and quarter (¼) cup of lemon juice. Store in a spray bottle and use everywhere!

Laundry Detergent

To create a detergent that will clean clothes without polluting the water supply, grate one (1) bar of Castile soap and mix it with one (1) cup of borax and one (1) cup of baking soda. Use one (1) tablespoon per load. Store in an airtight container. Extra care should be taken when handling Sodium Borate, as it can be toxic when ingested.

Bath, Shower and Sink Scrub

An all-purpose scrub that will remove the toughest of bathroom grime, gradually add half (½) cup of Castile liquid soap into one (1) cup of baking soda until the mixture begins to thicken. Store in an airtight container.

Glass or Mirror Cleaner

Mix quarter (¼) cup of vinegar with four (4) cups of warm water. Store in a spray bottle and use to clean glass or mirrors with a dry soft cloth.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Without the acid green or neon blue colour, this cleaner will get the job done; mix quarter (¼) cup baking soda or borax with one (1) cup of vinegar. Pour around the toilet bowl, leave for a minimum of 15 minutes, scrub and flush.

Sink (or Stove) Cleaner

To clean the sink, stove or oven, mix third (⅓) cup of baking soda with enough warm water to make a paste. Use the paste with a brush or sponge to scrub.

Drain/Sink Cleaner

When the pipes from the bathroom or kitchen become blocked, pour half (½) cup of baking soda into the drain/sink, followed by one (1) cup of vinegar. Leave for a minimum of 15 minutes (or even overnight) and rinse with hot water.

Wood Furniture Cleaner

For a simple cleaner and polisher that will leave a fresh scent in the air, mix two (2) cups of olive oil with one (1) cup of lemon juice or vinegar. Store in a spray bottle and use to clean and polish with a dry soft cloth.

FInd more simple recipes here for making your own homemade cleaning products.