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Waste Collectors - a critical cog in the Recycling Story

Johannesburg, April 22, 2021 – A paper tower rolls at a snail’s pace in the emergency lane of a busy street. You have seen these waste collectors before. They trudge along roads, footpaths and fields; tugging a bag or makeshift trolley behind them - their eyes focused on every piece of waste in their way.

Sorting, selecting and collecting as they go.

As the leading waste collector in South Africa, Mpact Recycling– collection arm of the Mpact Group – receives and collects approximately 600,000 tonnes of recyclables per year. They recover paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and cans, all of which is made possible through a number of programmes they run, including the informal sector of waste collectors. 

One collector who has turned her waste into something of worth and has opened her own buy-back centre is Ms. Itumeleng Phiri. She is the granddaughter of a man who fled Malawi at the age of 14. Said to be the next chief of his village, he realised that he was too young for a chieftainship and took the long road from Malawi to South Africa. He ended up at as a chef at the Kensington Hotel in Johannesburg. Itumeleng’s mother grew up in Hammanskraal with her maternal grandparents, where she met Itumeleng’s father. “My dad and his family were  my inspiration,” Itumeleng says.

Itumeleng recalls how her grandparents worked as tripe vendors in the late ‘80s. “I remember, when I was eight years old, walking up and down the streets with a bucket on top of my head, selling mogodu (tripe),” she laughs.

“Then I went to school! After school, the children were responsible for collecting wood out in the field for the fire. In my family, we used to do things on their own.  For example, after her father was retrenched, he used his pension to buy seeds and started cultivating vegetables. They did not depend on anyone else. I don’t either.”

Itumeleng’s fierce independence and entrepreneurial spirit has stood her in good stead. 

She is one of hundreds of collectors who are making a significant contribution to the country’s battle against over-filled landfills. These unsung – and often, shunned – heroes of the war against waste, play a monumental and noticeable role in collecting waste.

Dr. Melanie Samson, a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, has the following to say about reclaimers: “Collectors or reclaimers are able to meet the annual target that is set for a formal recyclable waste collection company within 4 months.”

In SA, our recycling economy is powered by some of the work that informal collectors do. According to Mpact Recycling: “This recycling economy is circular one and at Mpact, we align ourselves by this way of doing business. All recovered paper material Mpact Recycling collects and receives is supplied to our FSC certified Mpact paper mills to be manufactured back into paper.  This is then used to manufacture innovative board products, which are sold to the South African packaging industry. Mpact Operations (paper mills and corrugated plants) are Forest Stewardship Council ® (FSC®) chain of custody certified (FSC-C133590 and FSC-C004834) for sourcing from responsibly managed forests.  Other collected materials are sold to our recycling industry partners for processing into products and packaging.”

Mpact Recycling runs numerous pick-up programmes via schools, communities, and offices too.  Not only do these initiatives raise recycling awareness and create income opportunities, they help to push recycling levels to new heights. The recycling business has 14 operations in major centres nationwide and they have partnered with over 40 buy-back centres who supply waste such as their paper, cardboard and plastic to us for remuneration.

Our mission remains to get as many people to recycle as possible.

And there is no better time than now.

Together we can all invest in a better South Africa empowering others along the way.

Alternatively stay up to date by following us on social media @MpactRecycling