Women are leading SA’s drive for recycling and sustainability
JOHANNESBURG – As Women’s Month draws to a close, South African women continue to fight for the country’s future – this time directing their collective efforts at sustainable waste management.
This is particularly evident in the PET plastic sector, where industry players from big brand bottling executives to grassroots waste collectors have banded together to unlock the economic opportunities associated with recycling plastic bottles.
The result is the national body for PET recycling, PETCO, which was established in 2004 as a way to self-regulate the industry and fund recycling efforts.
Headed up by chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz, PETCO’s aim is to contribute to the transformation of the South African economy by developing a new sector economy in which plastic never becomes waste.
Scholtz said the challenge for PETCO lay in how to be more effective in linking the formal and informal PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic recycling economies through on-going mentorship and enterprise development.
“According to a poverty trends report released by Statistics South Africa last year, female-headed households remain significantly poorer than their male counterparts. We believe PET waste collection and recycling can provide job creation and income-earning opportunities for women trapped in the cycle of poverty.”
According to Scholtz, PET is one of the few materials that can be recycled safely into its original form as a food-grade plastic bottle or be transformed into polyester fibre for clothing and textiles.
“In fact, our industry efforts have been so successful that we have reduced our reliance on virgin materials and South Africa no longer imports polyester fibre,” said Scholtz.
In 2017 alone, 2.15 billion plastic bottles, weighing in at 93,235 tonnes, were recycled. This saved 578,000m3 of the landfill and created 64,000 income-generating opportunities in the process, she said.
She said many women were already doing exemplary work at grassroots level, citing examples such as the Masupatsela Cooperative, which has been operating in Tembisa, Gauteng, since 2011. Started by chairperson Salphy Nkoana and a group of women as a means of alleviating poverty in their community, the cooperative collects recyclables from more than 600 households, schools and shopping complexes and enjoys the support of the Ekurhuleni Municipality.
“In the Eastern Cape, the Uitenhage Recycling Mula Swop Shop Project gives children the opportunity to exchange recyclable items for food, toiletries, stationery, clothing or toys once a week,” said Scholtz.
Founded in 2015 by Quinette Goosen, Glinise Howard and Olive Grimsel, the swop shop benefits up to 300 impoverished households a week and has, to date, removed more than 45 tonnes of PET plastic from the community.
PETCO vice-chairperson Tshidi Ramogase, who is also director of public affairs and communications for Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa, said uniquely African solutions were now needed to grow a collective mindset geared towards sustainability.
“In South Africa, you have people collecting and selling waste as an income source. In first world countries, a household is expected to purchase their own recycling bags or bins or face a fine. With the poverty the majority of Africans face, do you think that recycling plastic is even a priority?
“So yes, we should recycle, but let’s be practical about solutions that make sense for us and for our circumstances.”
She said more and more women were making inroads into recycling, especially in the SMME space.
“However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to bring in more women in the core recycling business and I believe we are now poised to do just that.”