First it was AIDS fatigue; now green fatigue is setting in across the globe.  In recent years, the term green fatigue has been widely used to describe a phenomenon wherein individuals have become desensitised, less interested or, more negatively, annoyed with the constant flux of sustainability related messages.

Apart from the continuous eco-messages that are now more profound than ever in society, the onset of green fatigue is said to most likely be attributed to the cost of money, time and effort – which many people don’t have due to a busy lifestyle, rising living costs and rapidly changing trends.

Green fatigue is said to be the cause of declining recycling rates as well as the loss of interest in climate change.  The growth of the recycling rate in the UK has significantly slowed over the past few years.

According to the latest figures from the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), local authorities in England recycled or composted 47,1% waste collected in the second quarter of 2013, down from the 47,6% achieved in Qs 2012.  The overall annual remains at 43,9%.

A recent article published by The Telegraph in the UK states that the combination of green fatigue caused by councils imposing numerous confusing bins on households as well as declining paper and glass usage, and local authority budget cuts, have contributed towards the fall, which is increasing the risk of the UK having to pay millions of pounds in fines as well as almost certainly resulting in missing EU targets of recycling half of all household waste by 2020.

On the topic of climate change, a global survey study by GlobeScan radar has revealed that public concern about environmental issues (including climate change) has slumped to a 20-year low since financial crisis 2008/2009.

According to the poll of 22 812 people in 22 countries, including the UK and the US, fewer people now consider issues such as COemissions, air and water pollution, animal-species loss, and water shortages to be “very serious” that at any time in the last two decades – only 49% of people now consider climate change to be a very serious matter.

“Evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever, but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean the public are starting to tune out”, says GlobeScan Chairman, Doug Miller.  Perhaps a possible solution is to add “rethink” to the green slogan of “reduce, reuse, recycle”.  Sustaining sustainability can be achieved via other key channels – one possible avenue is job creation.

Back home, South Africa faces alarmingly high rates of uneducated, unskilled and unemployed citizens – 29,8% of South Africans of employable age are currently unemployed (Census 2011) and just under 60% of the unemployed have less than a Grade 12 qualification (StatsSA 2012).  In light of this, there is opportunity to create jobs in recycling – increasing recycling activities can create informal, direct, indirect and induced jobs, as well as downstream jobs in the manufacturing sector.

As at 2009, South Africa’ governmental Department of Environmental Affairs estimated that the total waste sector (formal and informal) constitutes 113 505 employed people.  However there have been no comprehensive studies undertaken to quantify the direct, indirect and induced jobs created by a recycling economy in South Africa.

The recycling sector can be transformed into a key industry of the South African economy.  The eThekwini Municipality, for example, currently landfills in the region of 6 000 tons of waster per day.  Diverting 70% of this can create at least 20 000 jobs, and save the city and ratepayers more than R300 million per year.

South Africa landfills 24-million tons of municipal solid waste per annum, of which 16,6 tons are easily recyclable.  This amount could create 215 500 direct jobs, 258 600 indirect jobs and 280 150 induced jobs – 754 250 jobs in total.

Although this is just one example, the opportunities are there to transform green fatigue into green vigour.