The Learning Lunch podcast explores ideas, approaches and social innovations – creating opportunity for non-profit organisations’ teams to discover what others are learning and space to reflect on what these insights might mean for their own strategy and programme implementation.

Social and economic incentives are powerful tools to motivate and influence behaviour in individuals, communities and organisations. Social incentives often involve recognition, belonging, or social approval, while economic incentives typically involve financial rewards, discounts, or tangible benefits. They have the potential to drive positive actions and encourage participation in activities that contribute to societal goals such as environmental conservation, community development, or public health initiatives.

So, how should we be using social and economic incentives to address South Africa’s waste problem? Much of our country’s solid waste is in landfills, including organic waste, such as food scraps, which could be composted instead. Addressing South Africa’s waste problem requires a joint effort from all of us, including everyday consumers, big producers, policymakers, municipalities, and waste treatment facilities.

Recycling larger volumes of waste relies on more people sorting their waste at home. Social and economic incentives linked to the things that are most important to people can encourage their buy-in, especially for those who don’t have regular waste collection and are dealing with other pressing service delivery challenges. But we also need infrastructure to support recycling, composting, and divert large volumes of waste away from landfills. Behaviour change and systemic change go hand in hand.

In this Deep Dive conversation, we talk to Chad Robertson, CEO and co-founder of Regenize, and Andrew Hartnack, anthropologist and researcher about innovative solutions and incentives to change social norms around dumping, littering and sorting your waste at home. This is part of DGMT’s Create Change campaign aimed at inspiring individual and collective action to reduce waste.

Chad Robertson is a social entrepreneur from Cape Town and currently the Co-Founder and CEO of Regenize, a company on a mission to make zero-waste services accessible, attainable and inclusive. He has a background in software development and was a student at UWC where he completed his honours in Information Systems as well as UCT – Graduate School of Business, where he completed his MPhil in Inclusive Innovation, focusing on the informal waste sector in South Africa.

Andrew Hartnack is a social anthropologist who has worked for the last 22 years as a development researcher, evaluator, implementor and policy analyst. He holds a PhD from the University of Cape Town and consults on a wide array of development projects focussing on education, early childhood development, youth empowerment, public health and livelihoods, among others. Andrew has always been a keen environmentalist and he started his working career at a leading Zimbabwean environmental NGO in 2002. Here, he not only witnessed waste management challenges and solutions first-hand, but also got his hands dirty in many cleanup campaigns. He attended the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg during this time. Andrew believes strongly that human development has to align closely with environmental sustainability and management. In 2022 he focussed his ethnographic lens on the question of the causes of littering and dumping in South Africa and what solutions should be prioritised to address these urgent challenges. This research fed into the CreateChange campaign initiated by DGMT. 

Here are some complementary bites to make your meal even tastier

Visit the Create Change website.
Visit the Regenize website.

Learn how residents are incentivised to provide Umphakhathi with their paper, cardboard, tins and plastic through an innovative funeral scheme which saves beneficiaries many thousands of rands if they suffer a bereavement, all for only the provision of their trash.

The Soulbent Project was launched in 2019 to clean up Saulsville. Within one week they had 30 volunteers. Soon after, there were 300 volunteers helping them to remove the illegal dumping sites, clean local rivers, plant vegetable gardens and also recycle gathered litter.