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Cities

A tale of two cities

Experience life for an ordinary resident in a Johannesburg township and the Brazilian city of Curitiba. Use the bar below to explore different aspects of urban life in the two cities.
Intro Housing Water Waste Parks Services

Communal toilet
The toilet shared by 30 familes

For almost a century waste disposal services in black residential areas in Johannesburg lagged way behind white suburbs. Alexandra was no different.

At Christine Mahlalela’s house in Alexandra, two outside flush toilets encased in zinc shelters serve the 30 families sharing the yard.

“It’s so much better than before. When I was a little girl we had to carry out the buckets in the morning for these trucks to come and collect. It was terrible. “

Modern systems of waste and sewage disposal are being installed as part of the Alexandra Renewal Project.

Christine likes to keep a clean home. Her “dishwasher” as she laughingly refers to it, is a small bucket perched precariously on top of a large black dustbin in her kitchen. Dutifully, twice a week, she takes out a plastic bag filled with rubbish for the garbage trucks that rattle through the township streets.

At the corner of her street, at the back of the single women’s hostel, a large iron waste disposal bin stands with piles of plastic bags around it. This is for other, larger waste, says Christine.

“But still people throw rubbish onto the streets. They just don’t care. The ones who make the most mess don’t come from here in Alex.”

Boys from a waste-recycling collective
Small-scale collectors boost Curitiba's recycling rate

Curitiba recycles 20% of its waste - more than any other city in Brazil. More than 95% of the population has some form of regular waste collection. Residents of slums with streets too steep or narrow for garbage trucks are given bags of eggs, fruit and vegetables in exchange for bags of rubbish.

Like about 70% of the city’s residents, Tatyane has two rubbish bins – one for recyclable materials such as glass, plastic and paper, one for everything else. She barely thinks about separating the waste: “It’s automatic, I just do it,” she said.

“I believe everyone is responsible for the wellbeing of the planet. I feel that I can make a difference by doing this. I feel that I helped to build a better and cleaner city,” she said.

The city administration’s efforts are boosted by about 1,000 informal collectors. There is also a Green Exchange, where low-income families can swap bags of recyclable waste for food, and schools are given notebooks, toys, sweets and show tickets in return for their metal, glass and paper.

Most of the recyclable waste is processed at plants in the city, some of which employ street sleepers and people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.

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