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There is far more to cleaning a badly polluted river than meets the eye, according to Dr Abie Khan, Quality and Food Safety Manager for Willowton Group, based in Pietermaritzburg.

Dr Khan confirmed that the latest clean up by Willowton Group of just 300m of a 1km stretch of the Baynessruit river yeilded 2.217 tons of plastic, metals for recycling and vegetation.  Willowton Group is currently exploring the process of composting the vegetation removed from the Baynespruit for use in the Willowton garden.

According to Dr Khan, Willowton Group’s third river clean up on February 15, just ahead of the 2022 Dusi Canoe Marathon, revealed that reducing the rubbish in the river itself actually brought down levels of E. coli which are an ongoing health hazard. This entails removing both refuse such as plastic, paper and cardboard, metal and alien vegetation as well as improving the water quality.

“We have taken samples of the water before the clean-up and samples post the clean-up to see the difference we are making. We will use this to highlight the importance of getting the stakeholders and communities along the entire river involved this initiative,” said Dr Khan.

Samples taken before and after the clean-up revealed that the very high levels of E. coli prior to the removal of waste dropped significantly afterwards but then began to rise again.

Willowton Group has partnered with Pietermaritzburg based Talbot Laboratories, a SANAS accredited testing facility, to assess the quality of the water in the Baynespruit.

Micole Martens, General Manager of Talbot Laboratories, said that samples taken prior to February 15 were high (648 800) but dropped to below 100 000 (98 040) six hours after clean-up. Unfortunately, they started increasing the next day.

This demonstrated that a physical clean up allowed for better flow and “cleaned” the river. The counts started increasing once more because the pollution from upstream continued.

Things like crisp packets, plastic bottles and even trolleys often make their way into rivers. Unfortunately, these things are intentionally thrown into the river. Other times, litter blows rubbish out of bins or landfill. This makes its way into the watercourse. No matter how the litter gets there, it’s really important to remove it. Physical pollution can have a devastating impact on the ecosystem as can be seen by the high E. coli counts before clean-up.

“By carrying out regular litter picks, we can help alleviate the burden of physical pollution on our rivers and other habitats,” continued Khan.

Martens stressed that both physical pollutants and bacterial and chemical pollutants that were not visible needed to be removed from the Baynespruit to make it safe for local communities without access to clean water via the municipality to use it.

“Rivers contain microbial life and pollutants from a range of natural sources. For example, livestock animals are kept in the vicinity of a river. They can defecate directly into the waterway. Even without direct access, rainwater can mix with manure and other animal waste before draining into the river as runoff.

Martens added that, during periods of heavy rain such as that experienced in the KZN Midlands, storm water from treatment works and storm drains from the sewer network resulted in rainwater mixed with raw sewage being discharged into rivers. “This means that the majority of what gets flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink – including non-biodegradable items like wet wipes – ends up polluting the river. In theory, the rainwater should dilute the raw sewage and screens should remove gross solids — however, the existing infrastructure can’t cope with our rapidly increasing population, leading to many discharging more often than they should,” she explained.

The Willowton Group, manufacturers’ of Sunfoil Sunflower Oil is one of the leading manufacturers in the South African FMCG market.

The group operates across South Africa with manufacturing facilities in Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. A wide range of products encompassing edible oils, margarines and spreads, beauty, toilet and laundry soaps, candles, baking and industrial fats. Well-known brands include, among others, Sunfoil, Sunshine D, d’lite and Allsome rice.

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