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Industry change-makers and organisations honoured with sustainability awards

Several inspiring industry change-makers – as well as brands making impressive strides in ensuring the sustainability of their products – have been honoured by South Africa’s longest-standing producer responsibility organisation (PRO), Petco.

The annual Petco awards, which recognise inspiring work within the collection and recycling value chain throughout South Africa, have been announced.

The accolades were awarded to 11 recipients in nine categories ranging from the Recycling Partnership Gamechanger to Kerbside Collection and Sorting, and Top Woman in Recycling.

Among the brands recognised was Woolworths, for introducing South Africa’s first polyolefin shrink-wrap sleeve on the PET bottles for its iced tea range – ensuring that these bottles can be recycled in South Africa.

Liquid board packaging producer Tetra Pak was also awarded for its innovative school-based recycling campaign which educated almost 20,000 learners about the importance of collecting and recycling liquid board cartons, resulting in the collection of 9.5 tonnes of cartons.

Chemical giant AECI’s buy-back centre support was lauded for facilitating recycling and sustaining jobs, while GreenWay Africa and Heineken’s Project Vuselela improved the collection of recyclable packaging, with a focus on inclusivity for waste pickers in the value chain.

Boksburg manufacturer Infinite Industries won the newly introduced Innovation category for turning “unrecyclable” waste into eco-friendly construction materials.

Aside from these industry stakeholders, a number of SMMEs and community-based initiatives were also honoured for their work.

Petco CEO Cheri Scholtz said the purpose of the accolades was to shine a light on unsung sustainability heroes and initiatives throughout South Africa.

“The awards once again recognise South Africans who are making an extraordinary contribution towards building a circular economy for our country.

“These community members and organisations are helping to create income streams in the waste economy, and divert post-consumer packaging from landfills and from ending up in the environment,” said Scholtz.

“These are critical and yet often unrecognised strides in contributing to a sustainable future for our country.”

Since 2004, Petco has been facilitating the collection and recycling of PET bottles and jars, and their associated labels and closures, on behalf of its members. It began doing the same for liquid board (LBP) packaging in 2023.

Award winners

Design for Circularity

As part of its vision for zero packaging waste to landfill and commitment to circularity, Woolworths introduced South Africa’s first recyclable shrink-wrap sleeve for its iced tea range, ensuring compatibility with existing recycling processes and encouraging circularity.

Previously, the PET shrink sleeve on the PET bottle caused the entire bottle to be non-recyclable as recyclers were not able to separate the two in the recycling process. The transition to a polyolefin shrink sleeve ensures that the materials separate easily at the container grinding stage and allows for clean separation between the PET flake and label remnants, facilitating effective bottle-to-bottle recycling of clean PET.

Feroz Koor, head of sustainability for the Woolworths Group, said the retailer worked closely with its suppliers and local recyclers to develop South Africa’s first floatable polyolefin sleeve, which will reduce waste and contribute to a circular economy.

“It was also critical to us to have a colourless PET bottle to optimise the quality of recyclate obtained from the recycling stream to unlock opportunities for creating an expanded range of next-generation products,” added Koor.

Environmental Education and Awareness Initiative

Tetra Pak, alongside Woodlands Dairy and Petco, collaborated on the successful ‘Choose to Recycle’ schools competition, aimed at promoting the recycling of Tetra Pak liquid board packaging (LBP). The campaign included a roadshow across 22 selected schools in the Eastern Cape, running from July to November 2023.

Learners were educated on environmental responsibility and the importance of recycling LBP cartons. Each school received branded recycling bins, and used cartons were collected and recycled through a reverse vending machine, with progress tracked via an app. Winners in each area received prizes to support their schools, with a total of 270,000 packs (9.5 tonnes) recycled and 19,520 learners participating in the competition.

Tetra Pak sustainability manager Masale Manoko said teaching children to recycle, cut back on waste, and appreciate the environment helped to create more ecologically conscious adults.

“The youth of today will lead the globe in the future and have the ability to bring about constructive changes that will protect the environment for coming generations,” said Manoko.

Recycling Partnership Gamechanger (joint winner)

AECI demonstrated its commitment to environmental stewardship and social empowerment through its various partnership projects with Petco.

AECI supports 13 buy-back centres near its operations in eight provinces, helping to facilitate the recycling of hundreds of tonnes of waste annually and sustaining more than 280 jobs, while also benefitting waste pickers and the surrounding rural communities, with an estimated extended impact on over 33,000 beneficiaries.

 Through its support of Masekethele, an initiative that sees informal sewing groups turning recycled polyester into bags and other products, AECI has contributed to the livelihoods of more than 150,000 women to date.

Group social responsibility and sustainability impact manager Nicole Solomon said one of AECI’s key social programmes was the support of climate action initiatives focused on circularity in waste management.

“We are proud to support these buy-back centres. Through our partnership with Petco, we are able to support the waste management issue our country is faced with, whilst creating jobs,” said Solomon.

Recycling Partnership Gamechanger (joint winner)

GreenWay Africa, in partnership with Heineken for Project Vuselela, focuses on the collection of recyclable packaging to support waste pickers’ livelihoods and promote sustainability.

The KwaZulu-Natal project aims to ensure inclusivity and support for waste pickers, by facilitating efficient collection of waste materials from them and delivery to various buy-back centres around Durban. When waste reaches maximum capacity in waste pickers’ yards or designated group spaces, a truck is dispatched to collect from all of them.

These interventions ensure seamless connections and trading between the buy-back centre and seller, overcoming transportation challenges by using the partners’ established transport network.

Their holistic approach and impactful partnerships with Okhahlamba Municipality and the buy-back centres demonstrate commitment to making a positive social, environmental and economic impact in local communities.

NEW CATEGORY – Innovation

Johannesburg-based Infinite Industries upcycles waste plastics into durable construction boards of varying thicknesses, finishes and colours that serve as an eco-conscious alternative to traditional wood.

By sourcing raw materials from a mix of industrial partners and private suppliers, including plastic bottles, liquid board packaging, and rubber tyres, they produce low-cost building materials, school desks, and signage, among other products.

Their impact is significant, diverting 654,765kg (655 tonnes) of combined plastic waste from Gauteng landfills.

CEO Maggie Infante said the potential market was large and expanding rapidly.

“With a growing global emphasis on sustainability and circular economy practices, the demand for high-quality, recycled materials is set to soar. Infinite Board is at the forefront of this movement, offering a solution that benefits both businesses and the environment.”

Local Authority Recycling Innovation

Belinda Langenhoven, who recently retired from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) in the Western Cape, has made an outstanding contribution to waste management initiatives in the province since 2006.

Langenhoven has spearheaded numerous impactful projects, including the three-year “buy recycled” campaign, recycling roadshows, and training workshops for waste entrepreneurs, leading to the establishment of The Western Cape Recycling Action Group (WCRAG).

Her waste entrepreneur support programme benefitted 35 enterprises from 2016 to 2018, and continues to provide support for waste picker integration programmes. She has enhanced cooperation between municipalities and PROs to address recycling challenges and promote waste diversion.

Her efforts positively impacted waste management across the Cape Metro, five district municipalities, and 24 local municipalities, indirectly diverting waste and supporting the recycling economy in the Western Cape.

For communities to buy into the collect-sort-recycle mindset, Langenhoven said they needed to understand the direct benefits that recycling could hold for them, and that various incentivisation models could be implemented, depending on the socio-economic level of the particular community.

Whatever model or programme was adopted, she said stakeholders needed to work together for success.

“It requires partnerships with clearly defined roles and responsibilities between the public sector, community representative groups, producer responsibility organisations and SMMEs, including waste pickers.”

Top Woman in Recycling

Refiloe Ramadikela founded Hendrina Recycling in 2020 while completing her environmental management studies.

Covering a 200km radius, Hendrina Recycling operates in areas of Mpumalanga like Hendrina, Middelburg, and Siyabuswa, engaging in impactful initiatives such as awareness campaigns and community outreach.

With a dedicated team of 29 staff and partnerships with schools, municipalities, and non-profit organisations, Hendrina Recycling is transforming waste management and promoting sustainability in the community. Ramadikela’s focus on the daily collection of recyclable materials resulted in the processing of a total of 706 tonnes in 2023.

She said the unintended impact of waste in the environment had troubled the community.

“People know it’s not good for animals to eat plastic materials and it bothers them. It’s the most heartbreaking thing you can see.”

Ramadikela said the local municipality, industrial and commercial businesses and households had embraced the recycling culture.

“Our community has a very high unemployment rate, and this work is a great means of earning a living and being part of the solution. People are lost when they have no sense of purpose – our work brings hope.”

Entrepreneur

Inhle Indaloyakhe, a buy-back centre in Daveyton, Gauteng, was founded in 2014 by Suzan Banda, who saw a gap in the environmental sector and a lack of job opportunities in her community for people over the age of 35. Today, the centre actively engages residents, tuck shops and schools in the area to persuade them to separate their waste at source and recycle.

Inhle Indaloyakhe has 30 employees and its operations have expanded into Johannesburg. Its recent establishment of a second recycling centre, equipped with granulating and pelletising machines, has led to a notable increase in the volume of recyclable materials it collects, demonstrating Banda’s entrepreneurial success and commitment to sustainability.

“I believe that my work is important because it helps to reduce waste in my community and I have been able to hire 474 waste pickers and we are working with 20 schools,” said Banda.

Kerbside Collection and Sorting (joint winner)

Recycle’M, a Pietermaritzburg-based initiative, was founded in 2016 and focuses on kerbside recycling collections across approximately 12 suburbs and 25 businesses.

With collections on a weekly set schedule, the business promotes waste diversion from landfills through a separation-at-source system, encouraging residents to place recyclable packaging in clear bags on scheduled days or use specially labelled recycling bins in residential complexes.

Owner Mandy Hiralal said she grew up in a family that recycled or reused everything.

“So, when I saw an advert placed in the local newspapers by Msunduzi Municipality, inviting residents to join them in their kerbside recycling programme, and start a small business, I saw the opportunity to combine my passion for recycling with a viable income stream.”

She said, like any new venture, it had been a slow start but that as word spread, the community participation grew and continues to grow.

“The community loves the idea and convenience of our kerbside collection system, as well as the personal touch and hands-on approach of our operations,” said Hiralal.

“The community benefits in the form of cleaner surroundings, an increased awareness of how to dispose of our waste responsibly, and togetherness as we all work together towards the common goal of preservation and protection of the environment.”

Kerbside Collection and Sorting (joint winner)

In 2019, the Oasis retirement resort in Cape Town, started the Oasis Green Team recycling project, dedicated to educating residents and promoting waste separation at the source, under the motto “Less to Landfill”.

Achieving a diversion rate of over 92% of waste from landfills, Oasis collaborates with service providers WastePlan and YWaste to manage its recycling and waste. Residents in six blocks actively participate in waste separation, either by dropping recyclables in designated bins or by using door hangers for collection.

The Oasis Green Team has also engaged with City of Cape Town officials and other interested parties about the potential to replicate what the retirees have created.

“It is important, as we are concerned about the state of the world that we will be leaving behind for our children and grandchildren,” said team member Jan Visser.

Best Community Recycling Initiative

In Bloemfontein, the Fichardt Park Neighbourhood Association (FNA) launched the Fichardt Park Recycling project in 2013. Despite initial challenges, the project adapted, setting up recycling collection points on weekends and deploying additional collection trailers to accommodate increased volumes as the project grew in popularity.

Now employing 12 permanent staff and sponsored by Petco, the project collected over 1,400 tonnes of recycling from 2017 to 2023. The initiative involves 2,791 households, a hospital, and two shopping centres, with additional recycling stations at five retirement villages and two estates.

“The recycling project ensures a better quality of life for the residents, for everybody striving to live in a safe, clean and caring environment,” said association chairperson for the environment and recycling, Duart Hugo.

“We as the FNA strive to enhance our efforts to reduce the carbon footprint not only for Fichardt Park but for the greater Bloemfontein and Mangaung, and will create awareness wherever it is needed.”

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