Over 1000 people flocked to Durban’s beaches on Saturday – not for fun in the sun, but for a mass cleanup following the devastating floods which hit KwaZulu-Natal a week ago.

Following the deadly floods that hit KwaZulu-Natal, large stretches of the coastline around Durban has been littered with plastic waste that was washed down the Umgeni River. Watch.

A social media campaign calling on locals to help clean up the shoreline saw people arrive in droves to lend a hand.

Hanno Langenhoven, strategic manager for recycling at the Wildlands Trust, said the mass effort saw at least half of the mountains of waste removed from the beaches, with specific focus on the Durban port and shores near the Umgeni River mouth.

But this is only a symptom of the issue, Langenhoven told News24.

“The biggest problem is not the plastic and waste on the beaches, it’s what builds up in river systems owing to consumer behavior and service delivery inland, along with poorly designed packaging material,” he explained.

“[The waste] builds up in river systems and washes what’s inland onto the beach.”

All the big river systems were affected by the severe storm, he continued.

Amanzimnyama, Umhlatuzana and Umbilo rivers – which empties into the Durban harbour – and the Umgeni River north of the port all carried significant waste from inland owing to service delivery failures, he said.

In addition to better waste management “upriver”, corporates needed to focus on designing recyclable and more environmentally friendly plastic products and packaging, he maintained.

Lindsay Hopkins, project director at Breathe Ocean Conservation who was the force behind the social media campaign, said the turnout was “ridiculous”.

“There was a sea of people. Within the first hour I ran out of refuse bags,” she enthused, explaining that she eventually resorted to asking people to bring their own.

She said the best way to solve the pollution problem was to go to the source – “up the river” – by working with the informal settlements along the banks which are not receiving municipal refuse removal services.

Recycling programmes were also being planned through targeted initiatives, Hopkins added.

Over 80 people were killed following the severe localised flooding and heavy rains in KwaZulu-Natal, officials have confirmed.