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Unique recycling project gains national traction

May 21, 2021
The successful PETCO Separation at Source programme to improve municipal waste management and boost the green economy begins nationwide rollout.

A UNIQUE programme aimed at upping collection and recycling rates, boosting green economy jobs and diverting waste from landfills has started to roll out across South Africa.

Following a successful pilot rollout in Thohoyandou and Sibasa in Limpopo in March last year, the Separation at Source programme has celebrated its launch in a second province – KwaZulu Natal.

The May 13 launch in Umlazi saw PETCO – the national industry organisation that supports polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle recycling and collections – hand over 120 recycling bins, sponsored by SA’s leading polymer producer Safripol, to environmental group Isphepho Enviro Ambassadors. The donation worth over R230 000 also included 50 bulk bags, a 12m storage container, platform scale, signage and a 6m volume trailer.

The colour-coded green (glass), yellow (plastics), blue (paper) and red (cans) bins will appear at schools, communities and businesses in and around Umlazi and will allow residents and businesses to separate out their household waste for the first time. This means – at least for those who partake in the project – that only waste which cannot be recycled will end up in the municipality’s landfills.

Isphepho (isiZulu meaning ‘tornado’) collects recyclables from the community and also facilitates clean-ups in Durban. So far, 20 schools in Umlazi have joined the Separation at Source programme, with Isphepho collecting a minimum of 10 tonnes of PET plastic a month. Isphepho aims to increase the number of schools registered to more than 50 over the next year.

The 35-strong ambassador group comprises mostly unemployed graduates from disciplines including IT, public administration, speech and drama, conservation and agriculture. Londi Mbuyisa, who established Isphepho in 2018, says she was inspired to do so after founding another community engagement project in 2016. The organisation is self-funded by Mbuyisa, a senior lecturer in the Department of Nature Conservation at Mangosuthu University of Technology. None of the team earns a salary.

“The awareness and participation in recycling among Umlazi residents is very limited,” said Mbuyisa, whose vision is to create a focus within communities on the value of the circular economy.

Mbuyisa also plans to add value to the waste collected by using it for manufacturing construction materials such as bricks “to make affordable housing a reality for the community”.

“PETCO coming on board brings Isphepho one step closer to the realisation of our dreams,” said Mbuyisa.

Safripol sustainability manager, Dr Avashnee Chetty, said the company was “committed to supporting waste collection projects such as this as they are an important enabler to the circular economy.”

“Separation at source initiatives ensure that valuable recyclables stay out of the environment and are recovered for use in the recycling industry. These projects also have the potential to contribute towards improving the lives and livelihoods of the most marginalised communities,” said Chetty.

Belinda Booker, PETCO collections and training project manager, said there was “a huge need to support collection and recycling activities, especially in rural areas and townships where waste management is not well serviced or a priority”.

“PET plastic bottles are not trash. They are resources that can be recycled and brought back into the value chain, with local beneficiation,” Booker said. Partnerships at all levels of government, industry and civil society were the key to encouraging waste reduction and increasing collection and recycling, she added.

PET recycling in South Africa has consistently created more than 60 000 income opportunities annually since 2018.