From Paarl to Fisantekraal and Zebediela to KwaMhlanga, innovative South Africans are turning recyclable waste into revenue streams, all the while uplifting communities and creating jobs.

Organisations and individuals across South Africa are rethinking the recyclability of packaging, educating and uplifting communities, and creating revenue streams among waste reclaimers, while also boosting the circular economy and the environment.

The national polyethylene terephthalate (PET) extended producer responsibility body, PETCO, is recognising excellence in reuse, recycling and waste minimisation among businesses, organisations, community groups and individuals within the South African PET plastic industry, through their environmental awards initiative.

The winners for 2021 are recognised for embracing extended producer responsibility, contributing to driving PET recycling and reflecting the principles of sustainability practices, the circular economy, SMME development, and the advancement of women in the value chain.

Among this year’s eco-warriors are 13 individuals and organisations that have been lauded for their environmental efforts. Announcing this year’s winners of the annual PETCO Awards, CEO Cheri Scholtz said these recycling champions had seen the environmental and economic value of post-consumer PET recycling.

“Their success shows that PET plastic waste is not trash,” she said.

The category winners in this year’s recycling awards include a company that started in a backyard, a company turning traditionally unrecycled material into pallets made from 97% recycled PET (rPET), and a reclaimer so determined to start a recycling business that he sold his car.

A backyard story
Loretta Waterboer (45) started LW Recycling and Trade in 2013, operating out of her backyard in Fisantekraal, where she collected small quantities of any recyclable material she could find, including PET plastic bottles.

With just her one little trolley and no other equipment to assist her, she made do with what she could while working a full-time job as a domestic worker.

“I remember the first load I ever took to a buyback centre – I only managed to get R21.00. I was genuinely disappointed, but I decided to not give up because I had faith,” said Waterboer.

For Waterboer, the idea of starting a recycling business started with a trip to the local library on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.

“I was actually going to search for jobs at the library when I saw that there was a bus waiting next to the building. When I asked what was going on, they told me they were trying to fill the bus with people to go to a workshop.”

Little did she know, it was a PETCO workshop, where they were teaching women about starting their own recycling business.

“I left there feeling excited and motivated to start doing something that would not only bring me money but also help the community.”

In February 2014, after she had been operating her small-scale business from her backyard, Waterboer decided to quit her job and focus all her energy on her business. She also enrolled as a full-time student, doing a two-year diploma in early childhood development.

“While I was studying, I still continued with my recycling business. I would pick up my recyclables on campus and, even on my daily commute from Fisantekraal to Atlantis, I would make the bus driver stop along the way so I could pick up my waste stuff.

“Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, because people see this as a humiliating job, but I knew at the time that recycling was putting bread on my table. So, I didn’t worry about what people thought,” said Waterboer.

Passion pays
Despite the challenges, her remarkable passion, humility and determination paid off. In 2015, she officially registered her business and was collecting all kinds of waste from the streets of the Fisantekraal neighbourhood.

Just two years later, in 2017, after she had approached Garden Cities the year before about giving her a space to work from in their site yard, they approached her and entered into an enterprise development agreement with her. They gave her an 81 m2 area, which she uses for storage. “They even helped me with resources, like transport and electricity.”

Today, LW Recycling and Trade is still collecting and recycling waste from that premises and is the only accredited and registered recycling company in Fisantekraal. Waterboer is also the only woman recycler in the Durbanville area. 

Although she still uses her trusted trolley and her “God-given legs”, she now also has a waste baling machine – gifted to her by PETCO – which she says has helped her collect more waste.

Waterboer is not only proud of what she has accomplished but believes that it’s very important to prioritise waste management, as it keeps the community clean and saves the environment from pollution.

“I’m feeling very overwhelmed and still cannot believe that I won the award. But I’m proud of it and I’m proud of myself. I know I’m going to go very far,” says Waterboer.

Empowering others
Waterboer also works with women and the youth within the community, helping them by providing resources and knowledge on how to start their own recycling companies.

“I always tell them: let’s do this together, and I am here to assist you wherever I can. But people get discouraged because they feel this job is humiliating and they are better than this.

“You really need to have a passion for this – don’t worry about everything else. With this job, you don’t spend money to make money. You pick it up for free and are able to put food on the table, but also help save the environment.”

For more information about PETCO and the 2021 PETCO Awards winners, follow this link: www.petco.co.za.

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