Car washes fight waste

Sahied Yaseen cleans a car in Retreat.

Despite some rain having fallen over the past six weeks, dam levels remain critically low and rain predictability is uncertain.

The latest in the City of Cape Town’s drought interventions is to engage with car washes and taxi associations to encourage them to use waterless products

Level 4b restrictions were introduced on July 1, with car wash exemptions being rescinded and the use of drinking water for washing vehicles and informal car washes being prohibited. Anyone contravening this could be fined up to R5 000, escalating to R10 000 or even possible jail time for repeat or serious offenders.

At Wynberg transport hub, however, shiny minibus taxis await customers. In a backstreet, a youth carries buckets, one with rags another with water which he says he collects from Maynardville Park.

Mhlayifani Ngcukani says he brings five litres of water from his home in Gugulethu to wash his taxi. “That’s nothing,” he says, pointing down the row of white vehicles and puddles of water.

Keanan Solomons says he washes taxis for a living. He gets a lift each day with a friend as he brings 25 litre a day from his home in Retreat. He says he did not know that it’s illegal to use potable water to wash vehicles.
Taxi drivers Simon Ntalantala and Jeapatise Tamane say their customers do not want to get into a dirty vehicle.

They are not aware of the new restrictions only that it illegal to use hose pipes.

Jacques September, who is a sliding door operator and washes taxis at Retreat taxi rank to earn extra money, said he knew about the water restrictions and takes special precautions.

“When it rains I use the water from the shops and buildings around the rank to save water. Other times I use very little water but I can’t stop washing the vans because some days it is the only way I make money,” he said.

At Thursty’s Car Wash in Diep River, owner Thurston Elissac said he is on first name terms with law enforcement officers regarding the business he took over four years ago.

Back then the business was water thirsty but that changed with Level 3 restrictions.

An employer of five people, he learnt that he could get an exemption. He also changed his taps and used pressure control, through which he was able to use less than he would with a bucket system.

He now catches rainwater and has 2 500 litres in storage. “My landlord must be jumping over the moon. His costs are down and he’s not infringing any laws,” says Mr Elissac. Pointing to his shiny black car, he says he uses less than 50 litres a day and says his customers are happy with the waterless car wash, which he also uses.

Mr Elissac says apart from law enforcement he also has regular visits from the departments of Environmental Affairs and Land Affairs. “Are they visiting people in the townships though? Workers on the forecourt say people are hosing down their taxis and washing under running taps,” he said.

While a car wash is still advertised at a petrol station in Ladies Mile Road, the manager says he closed it down due to municipal water use restrictions.

Further along the road, franchisee Brian Bergh says they installed a borehole at huge cost about three months ago. They also use a fine mist to clean cars and also use the water to flush toilets and to water the garden. The car wash manager, Donnie Chisiye, says they now use 300 litres which can wash 60 cars.

Asked why he was having his car washed, Gerard van Aswegen, of Meadowridge says he works next to a building site so his car is always dirty. He is aware of the new restrictions and says it is the first time he is trying borehole water.

Meanwhile a car wash owner in Retreat, Alex Stemmet, knew he had to be water-wise since he started the business 12 years ago.

“We’ve been using a well-point, or borehole water since the start so it’s not drinkable but is filtered thrice so it is safe to wash the cars with and most importantly it saves water. This way I still get to run my business, earn a living, keep eight people employed and do my bit to save water,” said Mr Stemmet.

At Carr’s Hill in Wynberg, Andrew Mwala uses a machine that produces a wax mist spray which is wiped off the car with a microfibre cloth, leaving a polished surface. The water is recycled within the machine which holds 20 litres. They have been using this method for one year.

A Constantia car wash collects rain water and also recycles the used water.

On July 6, Mayor Patricia de Lille hosted dozens of car wash businesses at the Civic Centre to showcase some of the products available on the market.Ms De Lille also made a donation of products to the car washes to help kick-start water-efficient behaviour among car wash owners and taxi associations.

Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, Xanthea Limberg, says exemptions were revoked with the passing of Level 4b on July 1 and affected customers have been informed. Among them are car washes, sports clubs, nurseries and animal shelters.

Exemptions granted for health and safety reasons are still in place but Ms Limberg says that this does not grant unlimited use of water and conditions are attached to eliminate unnecessary consumption. If residents observe any contravention of the water restrictions they should take photos and report this to water@capetown.gov.za