On the back of its recent announcement of a 6% year-on-year increase in the recycling of PET plastic bottles, national industry body the PET Recycling Company (PETCO) has unveiled its 2019 recycling champions – people and organisations making strides in sustainability at grassroots level across South Africa.
In Gauteng, two totally different approaches to fighting plastic pollution earned the brains behind the concepts awards – 100% black female-owned company Makhabisi Recycling and Trading, which won the PET-trepreneur category, and Wits University’s Dr Melanie Samson, who earned the Excellence in Academia award for her work linking academic research and policy-making to improve waste pickers’ positions in the economy and society.
Boksburg-based Makhabisi Recycling and Trading was founded by Anna Hartebeest in 2007 and has been reducing landfill, creating community awareness and providing much-needed employment ever since.
Makhabisi is dedicated to being an inclusive green business, supporting the creation of social equity and generating decent jobs.
The thriving business now employs 60 people – 34 women and 26 men. On average, they sort and grind 200 tonnes of plastic preforms and 60 tonnes of sorting bales such as PET, HDPP and PVC on a monthly basis. Makhabisi on its own collects 18 to 20 tonnes of PET every month.
Hartebeest said that while getting into recycling was not easy, the rewards were substantial.
“My advice is not to focus on money, but rather to focus on doing what you love. Enjoy the chance to create employment. I believe it is important for individuals to stand up and do things for themselves.”
Daughter and co-director Harriet Matjila said her mother was a fantastic role model, a strong woman who was passionate about people and the community, providing jobs where others could not.
Commenting on the award, Matjila said that it had raised the team’s spirits and made them more determined than ever to never give up.
“It means that we are doing something right. As a thriving business, with the little we have, we are contributing to the transformation of our country’s economy through the alleviation of poverty and the creation of jobs.”
For almost two decades, Wits academic Samson has conducted research on waste, recycling, and reclaimers who collect reusable and recyclable materials (also known as waste pickers). Samson has published articles in high-profile international academic journals, as well as popular books.
Samson works closely with informal reclaimers who see themselves as the last line of defence before the rubbish hits landfills, carefully extracting recyclables from waste and redirecting them into the recycling value chain.
According to the CSIR, collectively, they save municipalities up to R748-million a year in landfill space. Yet they are only paid the price of the recyclable, and not for the collection service they provide or the environmental and economic benefits they generate.
“Many people think a reclaimer is just someone who rummages through litter, but that is not the case. Reclaimers have created a sophisticated informal system to salvage and sell recyclables.
“Their work requires knowledge of fluctuations in the market for recyclables, and the ability to identify items to see what is of value and what not. They need the skill and dexterity to remove what they know is of value,” Samson said.
Samson has a holistic approach to conducting rigorous research that is designed to support waste pickers, contribute to policy development and implementation and develop a new generation of black South African recycling researchers.
She is currently completing the three-year “Lessons from Waste Picker Integration” research project funded by the Department of Science and Technology’s Waste RDI Roadmap and the Department of Environmental Affairs, which includes facilitating a participatory stakeholder process to develop DEA’s forthcoming Guideline on Waste Picker Integration for South Africa.
“One key aim is to provide reclaimers with a platform so that they can share their knowledge with industry and government. Another is to ensure that expansion of the recycling economy is rooted in an understanding reclaimers’ crucial role in South Africa reaching recycling rates on par with parts of Europe.”
Samson’s facilitation and accessible presentation of relevant research has enabled representatives from industry, government, NGOs and waste picker organisations to understand each other’s concerns, develop a common understanding of the existing recycling system and the waste pickers’ role in it, and collectively write the Guideline.
The Guideline will be a powerful resource to assist industry, municipalities and waste pickers to work together to ensure that waste pickers are better integrated into and derive greater benefit from the recycling system and value chain.
“It will also benefit waste pickers, who collect most of South Africa’s recyclables yet are both underpaid and undervalued,” said Samson.
Samson shared her category win with the University of Cape Town’s Takunda Chitaka.
- Read about ALL the PETCO recycling winners, HERE!