Waste management practice

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Himkaar Singh, 29

Founder
The Compost Kitchen

Himkaar Singh is the founder of The Compost Kitchen, a Johannesburg-based business that delivers compost rich in organic matter. “We collect and recycle food waste into vermicompost, using thousands of earthworms. We give the vermicompost back to our customers each month, which they can use in their vegetable garden to grow food again,” he explains.

Singh worked as a civil engineer before completing his master’s in integrated water management resources at TH Köln in Germany, during which time he learned the importance of organic matter levels in soil. “Food nourishes your body, and that means the quality of the food you prepare is very important, and the quality of the food is dependent on the quality of the soil, and good quality soil needs compost,” he says.

When he was working as a civil engineer, Singh was focused on water, designing stormwater systems, but he felt he wasn’t achieving the impact he believed he could have. His master’s programme took him to Vietnam and Jordan, and exposed him to the value of soil. “Organic matter is what enables the soil to act as a sponge and give food to everything living in it,” Singh says.

Demand for The Compost Kitchen’s vermicompost grew during lockdown, as more people wanted to grow their own vegetables at home. “Our biggest success has been our customers. I’m successful because I managed to get the idea across to them, and they’re willing to support it,” he says.

The Compost Kitchen assists schools and community groups with composting and compost education, and Singh plans to expand their sphere of influence. “We’re developing a vegetable garden design service — we’ll design it, build it and show customers how to run it,” says Singh.

“The quality of your food is dependent on the quality of the soil, and good quality soil needs compost.”

Nabeel Allie | mg.co.za
Shandy Tema, 51

Shandy Tema, 51

Community development facilitator, trainer and moderator
Electronic Waste Cooperative of South Africa

Shandy Tema was born in the village of Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo and now lives in Alexandra, Johannesburg, where she established and runs the Electronic Waste Cooperative of South Africa.

The cooperative started recycling waste products more than 20 years ago. It is now an integrated system of environmental management programmes and projects. The aim of the cooperative is to achieve the dream of a “self-realised grassroots empowered way of living”, says Tema, and this can be achieved through reducing pollution in Alexandra and ensuring the greening of a clean environment.

Tema has personally been involved in conservation efforts since the age of 12. “I’m an advocate for recycling, reduce, reuse — my daily work is developing plans to see the youth being active in the environment where they live,” she says.

The Electronic Waste Cooperative of South Africa works by recycling electronics, office equipment and home appliances, to name but a few. The cooperative also repairs, refurbishes and promotes reusable products.The success of the cooperative can be attributed to its “collaborative approach and partnering with existing stakeholders to ensure effective cooperation between communities and companies for sufficient action to save the country and the world at large — the aim is to build together”, says Tema.

Tema has been involved in the curriculum development of e-waste issues, as part of professionalising the industry to ensure proper coordination and management within the waste management sector, in areas such occupational health and its practices and licencing.

“We are aiming for a clean environment through e-waste recycling with the view of changing how communities view the environment and, ultimately, creating zero waste and saving the planet,” she says.

The aim of the co-operative is to achieve the dream of a “self-realised grassroots empowered way of living”.

Neo Khanyile | mg.co.za
Rowen Anderson, 30

Rowen Anderson, 30

Head
Waste Want

While crafting a corporate social investment project as a Unisa student, Rowen Anderson realised that his family business was the ideal inspiration for a community outreach assignment. His initial idea was to encourage the homeless to collect waste by offering them a place to sleep rather than paying them. Anderson joined the family company in earnest and began the journey he continues on today.

One of the issues Anderson faces in the waste management industry is the lack of follow-through after the awarding of funding. As a rule, Rowen and the Waste Want team never take on funding that is not accompanied by a contract — a practice that aims to keep all interested parties accountable. A further issue faced by Waste Want is bad municipal practices that affect the efficiency of running the business.

However, the past four years have seen a significant growth in the conversations surrounding climate change and waste management efficacy. There is still work that needs to be done in convincing South Africans to adopt environmentally sustainable practices. As it stands, only certain segments of the population lead and participate in conversations around such issues. Companies such as Waste Want need buy-in from the majority of the population to thrive.

Waste Want addresses educational disparities that hinder the widespread adoption of sustainability practices. Through different departments, such as horticulture, tree cutting and pruning, Waste Want has many avenues to address the intersection between environmental protection and sustainability.

Anderson believes it is the people he has uplifted who are his biggest accomplishment. Many of Waste Want’s employees come from very disadvantaged backgrounds, and seeing where they are now compared to where they were has been one of Anderson’s greatest achievements.

“The past four years have seen a significant growth in the conversations surrounding climate change and waste management efficacy.”

Tshiamo Seape | mg.co.za
Megan Swart, 27

Megan Swart, 27

Operations manager
Packa-Ching

Packa-Ching is a Polyco initiative, sponsored by Shoprite and Sasol, that collects separated recyclable waste at source. It develops small businesses that collect and recycle packaging from low-income and informal areas — areas that often have little to no recycling infrastructure or education. So far, Packa-Ching has paid out more than R3-million to Packa-Ching users and diverted more than 3.8-million kilograms of waste from landfills — statistics that fill operations manager Megan Swart with pride.

The initiative is a mobile truck-and-trailer solution that brings recycling infrastructure to people’s doorsteps, while educating communities about waste management and recycling.
Only about 5% of South Africans recycle, leaving 95% of waste to go to landfills or lying on the streets. The lack of recycling infrastructure, education around recycling and the incentive to make an effort is at the heart of the problem. And Packa-Ching provides a solution to each of these problems.

Swart recalls an occasion when an elderly woman told her that she was begging on the streets before she joined the initiative. Today, she sells enough recycling to put food on the table for her four grandchildren.
“My work can give community members a dignified income. I try to be the change I want to see in the world,” she says.

This initiative has had a big impact across the country, changing lives in low-income communities. It helps alleviate poverty by contributing to enterprise development and a cleaner environment.

Swart’s team is working hard to expand the project across South Africa to 25 mobile and pop-up units. For her, working with communities brings a sense of belonging.

“This work is more than increasing revenue for the people at the top. It makes a real difference.”

Packa-Ching provides recycling infrastructure on people’s doorsteps, while educating communities about waste management and recycling. www.packaching.co.za

Linda Cilliers | mg.co.za
Tracey Gilmore

Tracey Gilmore

Co-founder
The Clothing Bank and The Appliance Bank

Started by Tracey Gilmore and Tracey Chambers in 2010, The Clothing Bank aims to address two major issues in South Africa, namely waste management and unemployment. The organisation partners with retailers, redirecting deadstock to the hands of local entrepreneurs.

“There’s so much excess stock in retail,” says Gilmore. “We realised that we can use this stock as a tool to help unemployed South Africans set up small businesses.”

The Clothing Bank’s retail sponsors — Mr Price and Woolworths — donate stock that can no longer be sold. Instead of going to landfills, The Clothing Bank uses the stock in its programme to upskill women, specifically unemployed mothers, to become entrepreneurs. The programme is intensive, with students spending their days in class, meeting with mentors and getting hands-on experience. Through five branches, The Clothing Bank helps 1 000 women a year set up their own businesses using the 1.8-million clothing items donated annually.

As well as The Clothing Bank, the organisation runs The Appliance Bank, training unemployed men to repair and resell customer-returned appliances. There is a third project, Trade Up, which connects seamstresses with excess fabric stock, giving them the business skills and design knowledge to use the fabric to start their own businesses.

“We provide a powerful solution — preventing all of this stock from going to landfill by empowering unemployed people,” says Gilmore.

The Clothing Bank will soon open a sixth branch in Johannesburg, with plans to one day expand to Namibia and Botswana. The organisation is also interested in creating a programme that focuses on upcycling — training people to customise and resell unfashionable stock.

“Everything that we do is about all of us,” says Gilmore. “It’s about supporting the planet while supporting social foundations.”

“Everything that we do is about all of us. It’s about supporting the planet while supporting social foundations”

Andie Reeves | mg.co.za
Moudy Mudzielwana, 42

Moudy Mudzielwana, 42

Director and founder
Tshikovha Green and Climate Change Advocates (Pty) Ltd

Tshikovha Green and Climate Change Advocates is a champion for environmental compliance, finding solutions that advance an ethical approach towards the intersections of business, law, community, government and environment.

Founded 15 years ago by Moudy Mudzielwana the company continues to lead by example, ensuring its clients know and understand environmental legislation to reduce any possible harmful impact.

While Tshikovha mission is to champion environmental advocacy, Mudzielwana believes there is more work to be done. “We are living in a dirty country. Do we question what is causing unhealthy communities? What is the future of a country full of sick people? A country cannot succeed with unhealthy people — Covid-19 is an example of this,” Mudzielwana says. One of the biggest misconceptions Tshikovha is trying to challenge is that environmental management is up to the government to solve. “In townships, we are disposing of waste next to our own houses and we expect the municipality to collect it. We need to acknowledge that if we want to see our environment being clean, we should take it upon ourselves to clean it.”

Tshikovha extends its expertise and support beyond business opportunities to educate the youth of South Africa. “We run a graduate programme that focuses on skills development for young people through job placement opportunities. To date, we have employed and integrated more than 100 graduates into the working environment.” Mudzielwana stands behind the idea that it is up to the youth of South Africa to create change, but says the government and institutions like Tshikovha must lead the way. “I believe that when our group of graduates start working, innovation will follow and if it’s an innovation for the environment — I am happy.”

“If we want to see our environment being clean, we should take it upon ourselves to clean it.”

Loren Shapiro | mg.co.za