“The ReTrade Project is a community-based recycling and social empowerment initiative. It seeks to sustainably provide members of the community with an opportunity to be environmentally responsible while gaining access to food and other basic essentials. Passionate about restoring hope and dignity to poor and marginalised people in South Africa, the team builds relationships and provides resources that individuals would not previously have had access to. Families in need can collect recyclable waste such as tins, plastic bottles, cardboard, paper and glass, and exchange this waste for basic goods at the in-house Trade Store, improving their lived environment while earning an income.
Maria Grewar is the founder and director of the ReTrade Project in Port Elizabeth. She moved to South Africa from America when she was 18 and developed a love for this delicate and diverse country – as well as her newfound proximity to the beach and bush. Sustainability became important to her when she began to realise just how fragile South Africa’s ecosystems really are. She also noticed large portions of South Africa’s vulnerable communities living in some of the most toxic and polluted places in the country.
Considering that the country’s economically disadvantaged citizens are also disproportionately affected by poor environmental conditions, it makes sense for The ReTrade Project to provide an intervention that starts in and is driven by the community it serves. While the value of the community clean-up aspect of the project is easily apparent, its layers of value also involve improving communities by providing environmental education that will have far-reaching, long-term effects, and breaking the cycle of poverty that has its own role to play in the lack of community value. The project has initiated a volunteer programme, which allows members of the community to offer a few hours of their time to assist in the Trade Store or with education programmes.
Grewar believes that South Africa’s human and environmental diversity is rare and unique, and she longs for that value to be preserved for future generations. She elaborates: “Since moving to this beautiful country 12 years ago, a need to preserve the landscape and creatures who cohabit it began to take root in my life. It fills me with an intense longing to see my children and grandchildren be able to enjoy this pristine part of the world in which we live, and to live equally well among others with dignity and compassion.”
The ReTrade Project aims to assist individuals who require immediate aid by providing for their basic human needs, as well as educating them and the wider community on ecologically sustainable practices, and Grewar is excited about the ReTrade Project’s future plans — both social and environmental. In the next five years, the aim is to see their education programmes and mobile buy-back centres rolled out across South Africa. She also wants to collaborate with other sustainability organisations, projects and programmes, and would welcome potential partnerships within her field. Grewar strongly believes that educating people about waste and recycling, while giving them the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, is a small step towards fulfilling a vision to see the upliftment of people and the world in which we live.”
“Since moving to this beautiful country 12 years ago, a need to preserve the landscape and creatures who cohabit it began to take root in my life. It fills me with an intense longing to see my children and grandchildren be able to enjoy this pristine part of the world in which we live, and to live equally well among others with dignity and compassion.”