Commuters’ Perceptions of Littering on Trains in South Africa: A Case for Environmental Social Work


  • Catherina Johanna Schenck Department of Social Work University of the Western Cape
  • Lizette Grobler University of the Western Cape
  • Derick Blaauw North-West University
  • Kotie Viljoen Universty of Johannesburg



Littering, train commuters, perceptions, South Africa, case study, environmental social work, Sustainable Development Goals


Environmental social work is a growing area of interest in social work globally; yet in South Africa there is still an absence of literature in this field. Building on the definition of environmental social work as assisting humanity in creating and sustaining a biodiverse planetary ecosystem, we researched the relationship between perceptions of waste disposal behaviour and waste disposal practices such as littering. Littering has been underexplored in developing countries, including in South Africa, and particularly in South African public transport. This article reports on the results of a case study at one train station in the Western Cape province of South Africa to explore and understand possible reasons for littering on trains and train stations as perceived by commuters. A qualitative exploratory methodology was used to collect 21 in-depth semi-structured interviews at the train station. The data were thematically analysed and the perceived determinants of littering were highlighted. The findings echoed the global literature referring to a lack of infrastructure such as bins, the litterers’ personal traits, and the need for education and awareness. Two unique South African themes emerged: job creation and dissatisfaction with the government or authorities not being responsive to the commuters’ needs. This study, the first on littering on trains in South Africa, makes a case for the importance of environmental social work by demonstrating the way in which it could contribute to sustainability and reaching the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


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Author Biographies

Catherina Johanna Schenck, Department of Social Work University of the Western Cape

Professor in Social Work Department of Social Work University of the Western Cape Rated researcher

Lizette Grobler, University of the Western Cape

Post Doctoral Fellow at the DSI/NRF/CSIR Chair in Waste and Society, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town

Derick Blaauw, North-West University

  • Title: Professor
  • Affiliation: School of Economic Sciences, North-West University, South Africa
  • Orcid: 0000-0001-8750-4946

Kotie Viljoen, Universty of Johannesburg

  • Title: Professor
  • Affiliation: Department of Economics and Econometrics, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Email:
  • Orcid: 0000-0001-6087-9684



How to Cite

Schenck, Catherina Johanna, Lizette Grobler, Derick Blaauw, and Kotie Viljoen. 2021. “Commuters’ Perceptions of Littering on Trains in South Africa: A Case for Environmental Social Work”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 33 (3).



Received 2021-08-23
Accepted 2021-10-15
Published 2021-12-08