Open Oceans

Durban has the busiest port in Africa, contributing 11% to South Africa’s gross domestic product. However, pollution in the Port of Durban and its waterways is a problem for the local municipality, eThekwini. In response, Open Oceans uses technology and powerful storytelling to inform municipal policy and decision-making, empower small business and bring informal waste pickers into the economic mainstream.


Activities are designed to integrate different forms of waste and promote a more circular approach to the economy, bringing together various actors in the waste management system. Drones provide image data that enables the cycles of plastic pollution to be better understood and to assist informal waste pickers operating in the arena to plan their collection cycles by informing them when to collect. In addition, through a partnership with a local lab, eyewear was produced from recycled waste, to address the impact of poor sight on children’s literacy, and to serve as an advocacy tool for prioritising ecological matters in the city.


The project demonstrates that better integrated waste management is possible and, through partnership, creative innovative ideas and new businesses can emerge.


What has been achieved

  • A desktop review of all current plastics pollution projects in eThekwini municipality, which led to identifying the need for a new advocacy approach.
  • The collection of drone footage, which gave more value for the visual aspect of the project and, due to the continuity aspect, means the project can be scaled at minimal cost.
  • Monthly beach clean ups, which assisted in collecting quantitative data (i.e. a weighted measure of the weight of ocean plastics collected in a monthly cycle).
  • Development of wearable spectacles that grow with the child, in response to the finding that visual impairments and poor eyesight (not the inability to comprehend) are the primary cause of low literacy levels in children aged 9–13 years. Children who benefit from these spectacles will not only improve their performance at school but also understand the value of plastic recycling.
  • Financial commitment from other partners, and commercial potential of the eyewear (retailers, optometrists)
  • Engagement and involvement of diverse stakeholders, from the political, economics, social, technological, environmental and legal fraternities.


Alignment with IUDF

Inclusion and access: bringing together actors within waste management into a more coherent system.

Growth: opportunities for new businesses, both in waste management and recycling.

Governance: empowered municipality and active communities working together and informed about environment matters and associated opportunities.



Government: eThekwini Municipality

Civil Society: Open Oceans (NGO), community members

Business: informal waste pickers, local maker lab.