Sustainable Design

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Mzokhona Maxase

Co-founder
Cubic 38

“Cubic 38 was formed in a small garage by two students from the Tshwane University of Technology, Mzokhona Maxase and Tshepo Sithole, with the mission to create quality and affordable products for daily use from non-conventional sources such as waste tyres or processed rubber.

Eleven million waste tyres have accumulated in South African landfills over the years, while other tyres are resold or illegally dumped in open spaces. When burnt for heat or used as a fuel source, waste tyres release harmful greenhouse gases and toxic fumes into the environment.

When he moved to Gauteng from Hluhluwe, a rural area in KwaZulu-Natal, where there is minimal waste and communities live hand-in-hand with the environment, Mzokhona was surprised at the amount of waste he saw.

“Living in Gauteng was a huge surprise to me. Valuable materials which could be upcycled into income-generating raw materials were treated and labelled as waste materials. This led us to investigate the waste tyre ecosystem, which had huge challenges and very few proven upcycling avenues in South Africa.”

Mzokhona then set about applying the lessons learned from this contrast in approaches to waste, and worked on making materials live up to their best potential use.

As the company’s research revealed, tyres can be processed into three main raw materials (bio-oil, high-tensile steel and carbon black) using an eco-friendly process of pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the thermochemical decomposition of organic material at temperatures between 400°C and 900°C – meaning that it irreversibly changes the material’s chemical phase, and its composition. Significantly, the process takes place without the presence of oxygen, and does not release toxic fumes into the environment. From this process comes the three raw materials mentioned, and Cubic 38 makes particularly good use of the waste tyres’ carbon black – a form of carbon that’s particularly fine, black and versatile, and which can become anything from pigment to rubber reinforcement. Cubic 38 uses the raw material as the main ingredient in their shoe polish and tyre shine production process, which is eco-friendly and does not cause further harm to the environment.

Currently, Cubic 38 has completed formal lab tests with the assistance of the Nelson Mandela University Department of Chemical Engineering, which is a big step towards reducing waste in the environment and directly benefits communities as they will live in a clean environment, free of harmful waste.

Cognisant of the fact that South Africa faces major challenges of youth unemployment and an insufficient waste handling system — especially in poorer communities, where the majority of the country’s people live – Cubic 38’s founders have made it their mission to address both problems at once. With the aim of reducing the environmental and societal impact, Cubic 38 plans to develop more waste tyre-derived products in the future. As their business grows to create these products, the organisation will scale up to involve more unemployed community members in the collection and processing of waste tyres to ensure the creation of jobs and a cleaner environment for all.”

“Living in Gauteng was a huge surprise to me. Valuable materials which could be upcycled into income-generating raw materials were treated and labelled as waste materials. This led us to investigate the waste tyre ecosystem, which had huge challenges and very few proven upcycling avenues in South Africa.”

Shai Rama | mg.co.za
Johke Steenkamp and Carla Gontier

Johke Steenkamp and Carla Gontier

“Grumpy & Runt was born to make veganism accessible, interesting, fun and enticing. Owners Carla Gontier and Johke Steenkamp wanted to create something that stood out from the crowd, and Johke came up with the idea of making doughnuts inspired by nostalgia and traditional sweet flavours.

Grumpy & Runt’s vegan approach is to protect animals, and part of that ethos involves creating a more sustainable world for all life forms.

Veganism is one of the easiest ways to lessen your own carbon footprint, says Gontier. She elaborates: “Studies have shown that removing meat and dairy products from your diet can cut your carbon footprint by 73%. We all want to be able to go visit beautiful parts of the world or enjoy them where we live, and if we keep only taking things from the earth without considering our own impact, then that life and that dream gets further away from us.”

The future of Grumpy & Runt looks promising as the pair work towards creating zero waste by dealing with suppliers that offer goods that are not wrapped in plastic, and educating staff on a zero-waste approach, while their recycling programme ensures that waste doesn’t end up in landfills.

(Pictured is co-owner and chef Johke Steenkamp)”

“We all want to be able to go visit beautiful parts of the world or enjoy them where we live, and if we keep only taking things from the earth without considering our own impact, then that life and that dream gets away from us.”

SA Plastics Pact: Kirsten Barnes, Oliver Bonstein, Nicholas Fordyce, Taahirah Ghoor, Cilnette Pienaar, Thula Zondi

SA Plastics Pact: Kirsten Barnes, Oliver Bonstein, Nicholas Fordyce, Taahirah Ghoor, Cilnette Pienaar, Thula Zondi

“The South African Plastics Pact is a collaborative initiative bringing together the South African plastics value chain — businesses, government, nongovernmental organisations and other groups — to tackle plastic waste and pollution at its source while driving a circular economy.

Plastics are versatile, low-cost and enable many aspects of our lifestyle, but the negative effects of plastic pose a threat to the environment because of irresponsible consumption and pollution; incineration of plastic waste contributes to increasing carbon dioxide emissions each year. For the Pact, circularity — keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems — is key. It helps to preserve valuable environmental resources and heritage while creating desperately needed employment opportunities.

The Pact has an ambitious, sustainability-driven plan to achieve by 2025: through redesign, innovation and alternative delivery models, they aim for 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

SA Plastics Pact is in dialogue with its competitors to identify synergies and partnerships. It has been successful in driving industry-led innovation that encourages new business models, breaks barriers, and moves towards a circular economy for plastic with improved economic, environmental and societal outcomes.

Image: From top left: Kirsten Barnes, Oliver Bonstein, Nicholas Fordyce
From bottom left: Taahirah Ghoor, Cilnette Pienaar, Thula Zondi”

“We’re currently the only African nation to have a Plastics Pact, and the SA Plastics Pact has the potential to lead the way for the rest of the continent.”

Trent Pike

Trent Pike

“Trent Pike, who is just 27, is the co-founder and managing director of two successful companies – Mielie Mailer and Oh Oat – and is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs making sustainability a core part of their business.

Meilie Mailer aims to replace plastic packets used by courier companies with biodegradable bags that are made using mielies deemed unfit for human consumption.

A year after Meilie Mailer was launched, Pike started Oh Oat, a company that produces fresh oat milk as a dairy replacement. In keeping with his all-or-nothing approach, Oh Oat’s packaging is repurposed wine bottles.
“My companies have two objectives. One is to create products that replace unsustainable ones. Secondly, we aim to show that the business-as-usual model is as outdated as it is unnecessary – you can create a successful company while respecting and looking after all your stakeholders and not only your shareholders.
“Living sustainably within the means of the planet and within the means of your personal circumstance leads to a healthier, happy life for you and those around you.””

“It was during my time travelling that my love for the planet grew. With that love grew a realisation that our planet’s wild places are worth fighting for. I also realised that I had the opportunity, and therefore the responsibility, to do my part.”

Zethu Kunene

Zethu Kunene

“As a teenager, Zethu Kunene read that, by 2050, plastic in the ocean would outweigh the fish. This prediction blew his mind so he looked further into the state of environmental affairs, propelling his desire to participate in conservation.

GreenMovement began operations with waste recovery as their primary function: going from dustbin to dustbin, separating out recyclable materials and then selling them to a materials recovery facility. When collecting and safely discarding sawdust for a client, they realised that it could be used as an input in their transformative and conversion processes. “After a few months of research, we created the first Woodie, a solid fuel replacement for charcoal, coal and firewood.”

Kunene says that sustainability is not a synonym for environmental conservation; sustainability is about environmental protection, social equity, economic development and meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

“The importance of developing sustainable business practices is to create strategies that commit to the long-term preservation of people, planet and profit.”

Kunene says that increased public awareness of environmental issues is helping to change the corporate landscape.”

“The importance of developing sustainable business practices is to create strategies that commit to the long-term preservation of people, planet and profit.”