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Circular economy’s importance – and the people helping to grow it – highlighted in new docu-series

Around the country, sustainability champions are working to clean up their communities while creating much-needed income opportunities in the waste collection and recycling sector. Now, their efforts are being recognised.

A newly released docu-series titled Sorted, directed by veteran actor-director Louw Venter, showcases inspiring sustainability advocates and the work they are doing to grow the country’s circular economy. The online series features actress Lindiwe Dim – a self-declared “concerned consumer” learning about the circular economy and how she can help it grow.

In addition to being featured in the series, the subjects have been honoured for their work by Petco, South Africa’s longest-standing producer responsibility organisation (PRO) which oversees collection and recycling efforts of post-consumer packaging throughout the country. The Petco Awards span various aspects of the collection and recycling sector – including innovation, community and women empowerment, entrepreneurial, municipal and environmental awareness education.

Aimed at revealing the untold stories of these entrepreneurs, researchers, environmental educators and women empowerment advocates, Sorted unpacks the significance of the collection and recycling sector for consumers – as well as how consumers can pitch in and make a difference.

“There are people who are designing products so they can be recycled. There are people collecting and sorting these recyclables. There are people buying these recyclables,” explains Dim in the premier of Sorted. “The money changing hands means that people can eat and communities can flourish.”

In Johannesburg, Dim learns from one of Africa’s largest and most advanced recyclers of PET bottle materials, Extrupet.

“For us, [packaging] design is the starting point and the centrepoint if products are to be [recyclable and] circular in any stage of their life,” Extrupet joint managing director Chandru Wadhwani tells Dim.

Dim speaks to Petco Design for Circularity award recipient, CCL Africa. Shivern Reddy, a business development director at the company, explains the innovation behind CCL’s EcoFloat® shrink sleeve technology – among the first recyclable shrink sleeve solutions for the PET bottle market in the country.

Reddy tells Dim how, in being able to separate PET bottles’ shrink sleeves from the bottles themselves during the recycling process, the circular economy is enabled. That’s because the recycled PET bottles can be recycled back into new PET bottles, free of being contaminated by the shrink sleeves during the recycling process, as was the case in the past.

“CCL has been developing a polyolefin film… which allows for complete separation [of the shrink sleeve from the PET bottle being recycled],” he says.

In Klerksdorp, Dim visits Matlosana Recycling, a woman-owned and managed buy-back centre. There, founder Cindy Foord – joint recipient of this year’s Petco Top Woman in Collection and Recycling award – employs 23 permanent staff and supports 160 waste pickers by purchasing their recyclables.

“Everyone that comes in here [to sell a recyclable] bottle or paper, I know that is their food for the day. That drives me… but a lot of people don’t know that [recyclable materials are] worth something,” Foord tells Dim.

In the Cape Flats, Dims investigates one of the Western Cape’s largest material waste recovery facilities, run by Waste Want – a joint recipient of Petco PET-repreneur award. Co-founder Lydia Anderson-Jardine tells Dims that on top of employing 1,000 community members full-time and supporting about 500 waste pickers, Waste Want also does the collection of recyclables and runs recycling awareness programmes in the community.

The penultimate docu-series episode follows Dim to KwaZulu Natal. In Pinetown, joint Petco PET-repreneur award recipient Bevlen Sudhu outlines his circular economy solutions company, Re-Purpose.

“We currently process about 10 tonnes of [recyclable] plastic bottles a day,” Sudhu tells Dim. “A waste picker in the community that we empower will bring the recyclables to us [for processing]. We then pass it on to the producer who turns the [bailed recycling] into raw material.

“Our work of supporting one waste champion, in turn, helps over thirty others to earn an income while diverting waste from their local landfill. Our impact is both social and environmental, which also leads to economic growth in our country.”

In the season finale of Sorted, Dim reflects on her journey, saying: “There is a whole sub-sector of society here who designs for recycling, reclaims waste, sells it to buy-back centres and makes material that makes new packaging products, all while adding value to people’s lives, communities and our country in the process.

“If we all play our individual parts, we can make it work.”

Petco CEO Cheri Scholtz said she was proud of the docu-series. She said Petco’s vision for the series was “to highlight the role consumers can play in the collection and sorting chain for the SMMEs and waste pickers working in this sector”.

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