How Sustainable Living Brings New Opportunity to Women Waste Reclaimers

In commemorating women’s month in South Africa, Nestlé East and Southern Africa (ESAR) celebrates the strength of four women who are part of the recycling economy through the RE-Imagine Tomorrow initiative a partnership between Nestlé ESAR and Kudoti a data platform for the circular economy, that is piloting a blueprint for an evolved waste management value chain.

RE-Imagine Tomorrow is a pilot project based in Tembisa, launched in September 2021, with a total of 150 waste reclaimers who are incentivised to recycle. To date, the reclaimers on the programme have been trained on the Kudoti App and this has helped them to become better recyclers, equipped with skills to set, track and manage their waste.

Through the RE-Imagine Tomorrow programme over 2100 Tonnes of waste has been collected. The collected waste is sorted, and the plastic is used to make recycling bins that are then placed in the community. Khula Sizwe Primary School, Ikusasa Comprehensive school, Arebaokeng community centre, and Ikhaya LoThando have had these bins installed reinforcing the three pillars of Rethink, Reduce and Repurpose of Nestlé ESAR RE, an initiative that tackles sustainability issues.

Waste reclaimers, Teresa Lenyane (62), Albertin Ubisi (46), Patricia Mbele (49), and Mabhayi Dyadya (60) make their living in a male dominated and labour-intensive environment. Waste collection, for them, is primarily about earning a sustainable livelihood, but showing up every day to do their work has a broader, wider impact on the environment. They champion the circular economy principle of reducing and repurposing waste, a shift that society is still looking to do more swiftly and effectively.

Lenyane is a mother of two, a grandmother, and a great grandmother to a three-week-old baby who she is excited to be caring for while her granddaughter goes to school. Her granddaughter is a third-year student at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Gqeberha, studying towards a law degree.

Lenyane was laid off at work in 2009, and it was then that she discovred recycling through a women’s soccer club that she plays for. The group of women were looking for financial aid for their soccer team when they decided to start recycling in their spare time to raise funds. In 2010, Lenyane started collecting waste in her community, with help from some neighbours who contributed to her collection. Now, 12 years later, she is proud that her work in keeping the community clean is also helping her and her family.

“With the income I made from recycling waste, I am proud to have been able to contribute towards my granddaughter’s fees, because of project management and budgeting knowledge acquired from the trainings. Now, I am also able to care for my greatgrandchild with my monthly income from waste collection,” says Lenyane.

Ubisi, a mother of four school-going kids started collecting waste in 2008 after she had to close her hair salon business. She closed the businesses as the rental, materials, and wage expenses were costing her a lot more than the income she was receiving. “I do not have to pay expenses to collect waste, all I need is my trolley and I have enough space in my yard to sort and manage the waste,” says Ubisi.

Last year Ubisi managed to complete the construction of building her house in Langloop Mpumalanga. “I have been saving while buying materials bit by bit. In 2020, I started the construction and finished it last year. The thing about money is not about how much you have but how you manage it. I can have R200 and be able to do a lot and you can have R2,000 and still not know how to manage it,” Ubisi says, reflecting on how budgeting and having goals have helped her build a home for her children.

Mbele and Dyadya have also been able to provide for their families through their work as recyclers. Mbele wakes up at 4am every morning to start working in time to meet her daily intake, as such she’s had to take her children home to live with their grandmother as she could not risk them being home alone in the early hours of the morning. Mbele had to sacrifice living with her children so she can work, and they can be well-taken care of.

Dyadya, who is also a breadwinner for her household was empowered to become self-employed after she learnt about project management and managing her own waste collection as well as budgeting skills through the RE-Imagine Tomorrow programme. She has also learned about the incentive initiative offered through the programme. Dyadya started waste collection by working for someone else and being paid wages. She soon learnt she could manage her waste and make an income which improved her life and her children’s lives for the better.

“The project demonstrates how the circular economy is a viable solution for tackling the waste management in communities through data collection, training, and an incentive scheme. Most importantly, the project is creating new markets for waste reclaimers, allowing them an opportunity to earn more and improve their livelihoods. In turn, this means more waste is removed from the environment, repurposed into furniture, recycled packaging, and many other useful implements”, says Gift Lubele, Co-Founder and COO, Kudoti.

For more information on Nestlé ESAR RE  www. Nestle-esar.com

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