Johannesburg, South Africa (06 October 2022) – The recycling industry is traditionally perceived as a male-dominated one, but in reality, many remarkable women and women-run businesses are making waves in it.
Recently, three South African women who have found innovative ways to turn recyclables into viable businesses and improve the lives of those living in their communities, were celebrated in the annual PETCO Awards.
These inspiring women were recognised for reflecting the principles of sustainability, the circular economy, SMME development and the advancement of women in the value chain, as well as for creating formal and informal jobs in the communities in which they serve.
They, along with six other winners of the awards, have been celebrated in a new online documentary series, “Message in a Bottle”, which shines a light on the recycling industry and the invaluable contribution these local heroes make in bettering the communities within which they live.
Lisa Steenkamp is the CEO of Westworld Recycling and has been part of the circular economy for 26 years. Her operation is based in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, where she employs 40 staff members onsite and purchases 180 tonnes of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is per month from waste pickers.
The centre also buys a further 1 200 tonnes per month of various other recyclables such as cardboard and paper, with all recyclables sorted, graded and baled onsite and collectors being offered competitive prices. Steenberg aims to keep South Africa clean and create jobs in the process, thus turning trash into treasure.
“My focus is to keep our country clean and create informal jobs in the process,” she says. “Through my business, I am able to turn trash into treasure.”
“Recycling is a very dirty job. It’s not very glamorous, but it is very interesting, and we learn a lot about each other and we learn how to recycle. Being a woman, I sometimes look at things a little bit differently than a man. I like things to be organised, and clean, so my workshop gets cleaned every day. We try and be organised, trying to try and keep things in a good fashion and good housekeeping,” she continues. “If there was one thing I could tell other women in recycling, believe in yourself. And if you can dream it, you can do it.”
Avashnee Chetty is the CEO of Safripol, the second-largest polymer producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. She has been recognised for the impact of the company’s sustainability projects in advancing waste collection and recycling in the country.
Partnership initiatives at Safripol have collected 2.7 tonnes of waste through the implementation of a litter boom expansion initiative and Materials Recovery Facility. The business has collected 3.4 tonnes of ocean-bound waste along the lower uMngeni River catchment area in KZN and also rolled out a bulk bag sponsorship worth R380 000 for waste collection to PETCO. The company employs 438 people with beneficiaries that include black-owned businesses and 35 black youth-owned businesses.
“There are various beneficiaries of Safripol projects that are involved in our waste collection and recycling initiatives,” says Chetty. “We hope to grow our network further and clean up as many communities as we possibly can, ultimately to put an end to plastic waste going into landfills.”
“There is no planet B, the one we have is the one we’re stuck with,” she says. “No matter who you are, where you are, where you come from, each of us has a responsibility and can make a difference and we can make an impact. It’s up to each and every one of us to make a difference and to be the change makers. We need to be the change we want to see in the world.”
The Masekhethele Project, meanwhile, is a women-owned and run business and is a joint venture between Siyavuma Foundation and Thinavhuuo Recycling. The project supports and celebrates women waste pickers who source recyclables that are then transformed into high-quality products by sewing groups, entrepreneurs and woman sewers.
Over and above the income earned through sourcing recyclables, 10% of all profits go directly to 350 waste reclaimers. The programme employs 66 full-time company employees but benefits a staggering 150,637 people in eight different communities. In 2021, the project collected a total of 2,156 tonnes of recyclables.
“Our programme also offers technical and business training, facilitates employment opportunities, and runs a range of sustainability programmes,” says Judy Henshall, founder of the Masekhethele Project. “This includes the development of self-sustaining food gardens so that vulnerable families are able to put food on their tables.”
“The champions are those who are punting the streets of the country, collecting the recyclables,” she continues. “The government always talk about the spirit of free enterprise. That is that woman; she gets up every day with a desire to go and collect that gold on the streets. And that to me is so special.”
The inspiring stories of these remarkable women, and more, can be viewed by clicking here.