Meet some of the women who have found the opportunity in waste tyre industry

AUGUST 25, 2016

The recycling industry in South Africa already provides jobs for 100 000 people and there is growing recognition that the waste industry contributes significantly to the economy, public health and safety, and to environmental sustainability. But collecting and recycling waste is much more than a good habit and a way of keeping our environment clean; it is also the means by which many enterprising women are earning money.

REDISA (Recycling and Economic Initiative of South Africa) recognises the importance of entrepreneurship as an economic driver and poverty eradicator, and has seen the success of those women who are turning waste into worth. Through REDISA, efficient management of the tyre waste stream has created hundreds of new small businesses that support thousands of jobs. This includes individuals and co-operatives, all of whom can now make money by collecting waste tyres from dumps and informal settlements.

However, micro collectors often face low social status, unreasonable living and working conditions, and little support from local governments. Phumla Hlathuka, 28, is one of the micro collectors in Soweto who has found an opportunity in waste. Becoming a micro collector not only provides an income for Phumla but has afforded her the opportunity to start and register Great Opportunity, a co-operative business run with her colleagues. When they started, some community members ridiculed them as they did not see the value in the work of a micro collector but, a year later, they are still going strong. Phumla and her team collect waste tyres mainly in the Johannesburg CBD, Germiston and Freedom Park areas.

As part of its logistics network, REDISA registers and contracts independent drivers who transport the recovered waste tyres from various collection points through to REDISA’s depots where the tyres are stored. Sannie Phasha, a female entrepreneur based in Limpopo, is registered and works with REDISA as a transporter. She has been running a successful business since 2010 and is currently collecting recovered waste tyres around Polokwane and delivering them to REDISA depots. As Sannie’s business continues to grow, her goal is to continue learning and to develop her skills around tyre recycling, as well as to educate others about the importance of a clean environment.

“My interest in recycling and caring for the environment was developed by my involvement in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa where I worked for a destination management company tasked with accommodation and transport logistics for the event. We discussed various strategies of caring for the environment and I was exposed to new thinking and opportunities. One area we spoke about was the removal and recycling of used tyres, so when the REDISA opportunity was presented to me it was something that I had first-hand interaction with and could easily relate to,” says Sannie.

Rea Ngwane, manager at the Rustenburg REDISA Depot, is testament to how lives can change when companies invest in training, mentorship and skills development. Rea is a young woman passionate about recycling waste. Rea says working with men who are either her age or older, in a typically male-dominated industry, hasn’t been easy, especially getting them to take her seriously as their “boss” or as a role-player in the industry. However, that has not discouraged Rea from following her passion and fulfilling her role as a depot manager.

“My journey as a REDISA depot manager began in June 2015 after resigning from the previous company I co-founded. Having started my career in the waste management and recycling industry, I have always been curious about what else we can do with the waste on our streets and in our landfills,” says Rea.

Speaking about the growing number of women in the waste industry, REDISA Director Stacey Davidson said, “These women are proof that there are various opportunities available in using waste and ultimately closing the loop to ensure that waste is reused and repurposed into products of value. Essentially this is what we need to be focusing on - pairing entrepreneurial spirit with the concerted effort to finding solutions to the waste challenges in our country. We look forward to continuing to work in collaboration with our partners in business, as well as consumers and NGOs, as we develop small businesses and create jobs, all while cleaning the environment.”