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South Africa’s newest recycling champions announced

NINE individuals and organisations have been recognised for their innovative and impactful work in recycling, an expanding industry that is creating employment while cleaning up urban and rural landscapes.

The sector is attracting a growing number of “wastepreneurs” – including waste pickers and buy-back centre entrepreneurs – who play a valuable role in diverting waste out of rapidly filling landfills and into the circular economy.

Honouring these efforts is the PET Recycling Company NPC (PETCO), which announced its latest award winners at its annual general meeting on June 7. The winners have also been captured in an online documentary series hosted by actress Lindiwe Dim and directed by acclaimed actor and filmmaker, Louw Venter. The series to be aired in July, was produced by Pretty Neat, with creative direction by Livio Tronchin of Derrick Agency.

Jointly recognised as winners in the Best Community Recycling Initiative category were Litter4tokens and Umphakathi Recyclers. [see full list of winners below, or watch their interviews on YouTube by clicking here]

“For us, it’s about understanding that your waste has an alternative use. It doesn’t have to go to landfill, it doesn’t have to be dumped and it doesn’t have to fill the environment,” said Sue Benningfield, the Litter4tokens area manager for KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal.

The organisation, with branches around the country, gives collectors tokens which they can redeem for household necessities and food in return for every bag of recyclable materials they bring in. About 1 230 families benefit from the programme each month. 

Umphakathi Recyclers in Soweto, recognised for using recycling to stimulate innovation, enables community members to bring in recyclables in cumulative exchange for items that will provide their loved ones with a dignified burial. The initiative employs six people while the burial scheme covers 438 households.

Founder Smanga Mthembu believes waste only becomes trash when you throw it away.

“Let’s do something with your recyclables. Let’s save the environment. Let’s create jobs. Let the community prosper. Let the community benefit from recyclables,” he said. “Instead of me giving them money, I can help people without funeral cover,” Mthembu said.

The Best Environmental Education and Awareness Initiative award went to Isphepho Enviro Ambassadors in Durban.

Working with 70 registered community collectors and employing 25 staff – many of them unemployed graduates – Isphepho runs a recycling buy-back centre, conducts awareness campaigns, assists 25 schools to collect and separate waste, and organises regular beach clean-ups.

“We found out that in over 80% of the schools in our township in Umlazi, there is zero recycling taking place,” said Isphepho founder Londiwe Mbuyisa.

Worth in Your Waste category winner, the Zonda Insila Programme (ZIP) in Mpumalanga, has shown extraordinary ingenuity in turning plastic and other recyclables into a chain of self-sustaining businesses. 

Participants in the programme run their own recycling co-operatives with the support of the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, and the assistance of private companies and local municipalities.

In three years, it has grown from four to 14 projects. Provincial ZIP coordinator, Linah Duduzile Ndala, pointed to the significant role that local municipalities played in generating employment from waste.

“To say waste is trash is outdated. Waste is not trash, it is a crucial part of the economy. The role of stakeholders like municipalities and the province is very important – they need to take the lead, because there is a lot of rubbish out there and much of it is an income for someone.”

The PET-repreneur award went to Ahmed Scholtz, who founded The Artell in 1987 – the first registered recycling buy-back centre in Mahikeng.

“A message that I want to leave people who want to start recycling is that a business succeeds not because it is big or has been long established, but because there are people who sleep it, drink it and eat it, and make a success out of it eventually,” Scholtz said.

The Artell buy-back centre employs 15 staff and processes about 200 tonnes of recyclables monthly, 10 to 15 tonnes of which are PET. Scholtz said no one in the area collected PET bottles “before PETCO came into existence”. 

Top Woman in Recycling went to Roodepoort-based founder of Westworld Recycling, Lisa Steenkamp. Having launched the buy-back centre during the height of the Covid lockdown in 2021, Steenkamp has successfully grown the business into a fully-fledged operation.

Aside from growing her business, Steenkamp is focused on assisting her waste picker “foot soldiers”, distributing personal protective equipment and providing transport to collect their recycling from various sites.

“I think being a woman, I sometimes look at things a little bit differently than a man would,” Steenkamp said. “I like things to be organised and clean, so my workshop gets cleaned every day. In my opinion, behind every great woman is a better team.”

PETCO CEO Cheri Scholtz said the awards highlighted a cross-section of actors in the collection and recycling value chain.

“We salute these winners’ efforts – their grit, determination and innovativeness,” said Scholtz. “The aim is more than just purely to educate – it is PETCO’s desire to inspire, to help grow the awareness of recycling as an economic enabler and as a powerful solution to one of modern society’s greatest challenges – waste.”

PETCO AWARDS WINNERS:

CATEGORY: Environmental Education and Awareness Initiative

WINNER: Isphepho Enviro Ambassadors (Durban, KwaZulu-Natal)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with Londiwe Mbuyisa, founder of Isphepho Enviro Ambassadors, on YouTube

Isphepho Enviro Ambassadors, which benefits 70 registered community collectors, 25 staff members who earn a salary and more than 60 families collecting recyclables, aims to solve the challenges of unemployment by providing opportunities for youth development by making use of knowledgeable and passionate graduates and students in accelerating public participation, environmental awareness, recycling and research.

Among its offerings are a buy-back centre, door-to-door awareness campaigns, schools waste management services and awareness campaigns (currently at 20 schools), beach holiday awareness, informal traders and businesses awareness, as well as facilitating and attending clean-up campaigns in various areas of Durban.

“We found out that in over 80% of the schools in our township in Umlazi, there is zero recycling taking place,” said founder Londiwe Mbuyisa.

CATEGORY: Best Community Recycling Initiative

WINNERS: Litter4tokens NPC (KwaDukuza, Etekweni, Hillcrest, Mpumalanga and Estcourt), and Umphakathi Recyclers (Gauteng)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with Sue Benningfield, Area Manager Kwadakuza of Litter4tokens, and here for Smanga Mthembu, founder of Umphakathi Recyclers, on YouTube

The Litter4tokens and Trash4tokens campaign aims to instil pride and cleanliness in communities while also encouraging hard work, employment and education of the nation.  The programme encourages people to collect bags of litter (including recyclables) as they can exchange them to get tokens to redeem at the token shop to feed their families.

Litter4tokens has prevented more than 666 500 bags of ocean-bound litter from reaching the sea. It has also fed more than 133 000 people through the food token programme.  More than 1 256 families benefit from the programme each month.

“For us, it’s about understanding that your waste has an alternative use,” said Litter for Tokens area manager Sue Benningfield.

“It doesn’t have to go to landfill, it doesn’t have to be dumped and it doesn’t have to fill the environment. What we can do as individuals is to remove as much as we can from our land. It’s not a difficult thing.

Umphakathi Recyclers is a buy-back centre that buys recyclables from the community.

After an elderly woman came to bring in her recyclables and broke down about not being able to afford a funeral for her son, Smanga Mthembu came up with the idea to launch the Umphakathi Recyclers Burial Scheme.

This enables community members to bring in recyclables in cumulative exchange for items that will provide their loved ones with a dignified burial. Mthembu rents out equipment including tents, tables, chairs, gas stoves, pots, mobile toilets, a mobile kitchen and plates.

The initiative currently employs six people while the burial scheme covers 438 households.

Founder Smanga Mthembu believes waste only becomes trash when you throw it away.

“Let’s do something with your recyclables. Let’s save the environment. Let’s create jobs. Let the community prosper. Let the community benefit from recyclables,” he said. “Instead of me giving them money, I can help people without funeral cover.”

CATEGORY:  PET-repreneur

WINNER:  Ahmed Scholtz, The Artell (North West)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with The Artell founder Ahmed Scholtz on YouTube

Ahmed Scholtz has a passion for recycling and waste management. This led him to open The Artell, a buy-back centre, in 1987, the first registered buy-back centre in Mahikeng.

The business aims to recycle all waste materials that are recyclable and to provide collectors with market-related prices for waste materials in order to sustain and promote waste collection for recycling in Mahikeng. He has not only has taught his customers how to sort and collect, but will travel collect the materials himself in instances where collectors cannot deliver.

Scholtz currently employs 15 people and has 1200 customers on his database system. The Artell processes an average monthly total turnover of 200 tonnes of recyclables, 10 to 15 tonnes of which are PET. 


He said no one collected PET bottles “before PETCO came into existence”. 

“A message that I want to leave people who want to start recycling is that a business succeeds not because it is big or has been long established, but because there are people who sleep it, drink it and eat it, and make a success out of it eventually,” he said.

“Health and safety in an operation like mine is vital, and that is why I have a waste licence.  I hire someone to audit my operation, and the result is sent to the environmental affairs department. I do need the health and safety to be in place, and comply with it, particularly since I work with heavy machinery.”

CATEGORY:  Top Woman in Recycling 

WINNER:  Westworld Recycling (Gauteng)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with Westworld Recycling founder Lisa Steenkamp, on YouTube

Westworld Recycling started operating in June 2020 in the middle of a recession after lockdown on premises in Roodepoort. 

Lisa Steenkamp has grown her business from a small recycling buy-back centre with a handful of employees to a fully-fledged centre with many more employees now collecting tonnes of PET and other materials monthly.

Not only is she focused on growing her business, but also assists “foot soldiers”, what she calls waste pickers, to improve their collections and their lives.

She readily distributes personal protective equipment, hosts holiday celebrations where food is handed out, and offers transport to collect pickers’ loads from various sites.

“I think being a woman, I sometimes look at things a little bit differently than a man would,” Steenkamp said. “I like things to be organised and clean, so my workshop gets cleaned every day. In my opinion, behind every great woman is a better team.”

CATEGORY: Worth in your Waste

WINNER: Zonda Insila Programme (Vezubuhle, Tweefontein B2, Waaikraal, Botleng, Hendrina, Sabie, Mpuluzi, Luphisi, KaNyamazane, Zwelisha, Pienaar, KaBokweni, Barberton, Bushbuckridge and Sibambayane Mpumalanga)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with Zonda Insila Programme (ZIP) provincial coordinator, Linah Duduzile Ndala, on YouTube

ZIP is a programme for those whose main objective is to save the environment from harmful pollution, littering and illegal dumping.

The participants collect waste, sort it and package recyclable material to sell, generating an income for themselves while at the same time creating a cleaner environment.

These participants have since become their own bosses, running their recycling co-operatives with the support of the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, and the assistance from several private companies and local municipalities.

The project was first launched in Breyton in the Msukaligwa Local Municipality in March 2019, with only four projects. It has since grown to a total of 14 projects.

With the level of interest shown and the growing number of informal waste pickers, there is no doubt that ZIP is encouraging more and more young people to shift their thinking towards waste. 

“To say waste is trash is outdated,” said ZIP provincial ZIP coordinator Linah Duduzile Ndala.

“Waste is not trash, it is economy.  The role of stakeholders like municipalities and the province is very important because they need to take the lead.”

CATEGORY:  Recycling Partnership Gamechanger

WINNERS:   Safripol and partners (Gauteng); Masekhethele (a joint venture between Siyavuma Foundation and Thinavhuuo Recycling (Limpopo, with plans to expand nationally)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with Safripol Sustainability Manager Avashnee Chetty, and here for Thinavhuuo founder Willie Ramoshaba and Siyavuma Founder, Judy Henshall, on YouTube

Safripol is a South African polymer producer that has implemented numerous impactful sustainability projects to advance waste collection and recycling in the country.

These sustainability projects have been carried out on their own and in partnership with various organisations, including PETCO, Green Corridors NPC, Tri-ecotours, Isphepho Enviro Ambassadors, Bophelo Recycling and the Johanna Road Informal settlement community. 

Safripol’s initiatives include awareness campaigns, implementation of Litterbooms and material recovery facilities, recycling programmes in its offices, bulk bag sponsorships, equipment support for SMMEs and clean-up campaigns. All of these initiatives led the company, in n 2021, to collect 26.6 tonnes of recyclables.

“We’ve realised in the process of implementing our sustainability strategy that partnerships are a key enabler. Without strategic partners, we can’t achieve any of our sustainable development goals,” said Safripol Sustainability Manager, Avashnee Chetty

“It’s up to each and every one of us to make a difference and to be the change-makers.”

Masekhethele, a joint venture between Siyavuma Foundation and Thinavhuuo Recycling, supports and celebrates women waste pickers who source recyclables that are then transformed into high-quality products by sewing groups, entrepreneurs and woman sewers from Phalaborwa.

Over and above the income earned through sourcing recyclables, 10% of all profits go directly to the 350 waste pickers from Phalaborwa. The programme also offers technical and business training, facilitates employment opportunities, and runs a range of sustainability programmes, including the development of self-sustaining food gardens.

The programme employs 66 full-time company employees, but benefits a staggering 150 657 people in total.

“When one talks about recycling, it is PET because it is available, can be handled, and its value is higher than quite a number of other products,” said Thinavhuuo founder Willie Ramoshaba 

CATEGORY: Design for Circularity

WINNER: PepsiCo (Gauteng)

WATCH: Click here for a short interview with Meghna Laxman MacDonald, Public Policy and Government Affairs Lead at PepsiCo South Africa, on YouTube

PepsiCo Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) committed to including rPET in all PET beverages within the PepsiCo business. The trials and process kicked off in 2021 and from October to December 2021 the business went commercial, with their 2L Pepsi Carbonated Soft Drinks (CSD) beverages including 20% Extrupet rPET.

Based on volumes produced within these months, a total of 79 tonnes of recycled material were used to produce the volume requirements for 2L Pepsi CSD.

“In our PepsiCo positive strategy, we understand that we’re trying to catalyse growth. We understand that there’s shared value to be achieved,” said Meghna Laxman MacDonald, Public Policy and Government Affairs Lead at PepsiCo South Africa 

“Essentially what we’ve done is place sustainability and human capital at the centre of that. It’s embedded in the strategy of the company, not something that’s done on the side.”

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