South Africa’s newest recycling heroes | Infrastructure news

Nine individuals and organisations have been recognised for their innovative and impactful work in recycling.

The waste management 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 the annual general meeting on 7 June. The 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.

PETCO is a registered producer responsibility organisation (PRO) that was originally incorporated in 2004 as a voluntary extended producer responsibility (EPR) organisation to represent the South African plastics industry’s effort to self-regulate post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling.

With almost two decades of experience in this landscape, PETCO has served its members by growing the collection and recycling of PET bottles and advancing local recycled PET (rPET) capacity.

PETCO Awards

The PETCO Awards is the premier national environmental awards initiative in South Africa, recognising excellence in reuse, recycling and waste minimisation among businesses, organisations, community groups and individuals within the South African plastics industry.

Winners are recognised for embracing EPR, contributing to driving plastic recycling and reflecting the principles of sustainability, the circular economy, SMME development, and the advancement of women in the value chain.

Cheri Scholtz, CEO, PETCO, noted that 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. 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,” she said.

Recycling champions

Jointly recognised as winners in the 2022 PETCO Awards Best Community Recycling Initiative category were Litter4tokens and Umphakathi Recyclers.

“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, area manager: KwaDukuza, Litter4tokens.

The organisation, with branches around the country, gives collectors tokens that 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, based in Soweto, was 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, which works with 70 registered community collectors and employs 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 founder Londiwe Mbuyisa.

According to PETCO, the 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 cooperatives 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 4 to 14 projects. Linah Duduzile Ndala, provincial coordinator at ZIP, pointed to the significant role 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 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-19 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.”


CATEGORY: Environmental Education and Awareness Initiative

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

CATEGORY: Best Community Recycling Initiative

Joint Winners: Litter4tokens NPC (KwaDukuza, eThekweni, Hillcrest, Gqeberha, East London, Richards Bay, Mpumalanga and Estcourt), and Umphakathi Recyclers (Gauteng)

CATEGORY: PET-repreneur

Winner: Ahmed Scholtz, The Artell (North West)

CATEGORY: Top Woman in Recycling

Winner: Westworld Recycling (Gauteng)

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)

CATEGORY: Recycling Partnership Gamechanger

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

CATEGORY: Design for Circularity

Winner: PepsiCo (Gauteng)

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