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Local recyclers are champs

Three committed local recyclers have been crowned as the PET Recycling Company (PETCO) 2019 recycling champions.

Drakenstein Municipality won the Local Authority Recycling Innovation award for its work in transforming the Wellington landfill site from a crime hotspot into a safe and productive site for 30 recycling entrepreneurs.

Franschhoek resident Jocelyn van der Ross was also named the Top Woman in Recycling after overcoming unemployment and three devastating fires to run her successful buy-back centre, Green Spot Recycling.

The municipality’s senior manager of solid waste and landfill management, Thys Serfontein, said that when he received the Wellington site, it had been taken over by informal recyclers and was a “public no-go zone”.

Battling hostility from illegal recyclers, as well as drugs and violence, the municipality nevertheless embarked on their determined recycling programme in June last year and have achieved a remarkable turnaround.

Serfontein said he spent time getting the buy-in of the informal sector and explaining the municipal support on offer, including recycling materials and protective clothing, and so the project got off the ground.

Of the 30 fledgling entrepreneurs who came on board, many have been able to break their cycle of substance abuse due to the strict rules now governing the site.

With informal recycler Marilyn “Sussie” Peters as project manager, the dump is now open from 08:00 to 17:00 daily and provides a safe environment in which to earn a living.

“My passion is not about landfills. It is about what I can gain if I can help uplift just one person and their families. If I can do that, I have succeeded,” said Serfontein.

Serfontein said next on the agenda was the building of a R25 million Material Recovery Facility for the entrepreneurs over the next three years. There are also plans to expand the recycling programme to other residential areas, which will provide an income for a further 20 impoverished families.

The project has been so successful that Serfontein and Peters have been approached by the Metsimaholo Municipality in the Free State to establish a similar project.

Meanwhile, van der Ross’s Green Spot Recycling is also thriving, after beating unemployment and starting from scratch three times following devastating fires, the most recent one last year.

“I moved to Franschhoek in 2004. When I first arrived, I asked myself: ‘What can I do to make a difference that no one else is doing?’ I saw all the wine bottles and started my recycling business going through bins,” said van der Ross.

She started with two employees, and today has 15 staff collecting and sorting recyclables, buying recyclables from three waste pickers. Green Spot now collects over six tons of PET plastic bottles a month.

“Through all the adversity, I have learnt to persevere. My advice to others is don’t crawl into a hole if things don’t work well.”

Of the award, van der Ross said: “I feel absolutely overwhelmed. This award makes my staff and I feel that we have been doing something right towards our environment. We certainly want to grow and do more.”

. PETCO is built on the belief that plastic bottles are not trash. When recyclable materials, like PET bottles, are sent to landfill, they become completely useless. PETCO’s aim is to keep the bottles out of the waste stream by recycling them.

They work with both communities and industry to create an awareness of the value of recycling and organise ongoing consumer education and awareness activities to promote environmental responsibility and encourage PET recycling.

PETCO is a non-profit company which operates throughout South Africa and has offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

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