Turning waste into valuable resources – and reusing what we already have

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There’s little doubt that green needs to be higher on our agenda, as we are fast running out of landfill space to dispose of our vast volumes of waste. Some sites, such as those in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, are overflowing and waste needs to be moved to alternative sites in the city, which too are over-flowing. At some stage city landfills will reach capacity – but what then?

We are a country that produces vast volumes of waste – yet there are numerous solutions to address this, by turning rubbish into a resource that can be used for different, environmentally-friendly purposes.

Reroute Waste is a local business that was established with the aim of diverting waste away from landfill and ocean-i is another local enterprise that was founded to work towards stopping the flow of plastic into the sea.  Both are making significant strides to effect change in their core areas of addressing the waste challenge.  

These two high-growth enterprises are among Endeavor South Africa’s network of entrepreneurial businesses that lead the way for green innovation. The Endeavor global network identifies, supports and grows entrepreneurs to help them scale, and has placed significant emphasis on small businesses in the greentech space. Reroute Waste and ocean-i have been selected for the exciting businesses they are building in the green sector and are now on Endeavor and UK SA Tech Hub’s GreenTech Incubation Program which introduces them to other greentech entrepreneurs, provides invaluable mentoring and exposes them to funding.

Reroute Waste:

Started by Fortune Hadebe in 2017, while he was still a second-year student at Tshwane University, Reroute Waste has since grown into a business with 14 sites, 1 in Pretoria and 13 in Johannesburg. It began on a small-scale when Fortune saw that a vast amount of waste was being produced by his res – which then had 2400 students – and was not being recycled. After numerous attempts to convince the faculty to allow him to channel the residence’s waste into recycling initiatives, he eventually succeeded and today he moves 33 tons of waste a year from the university residence into alternative initiatives, keeping it out of landfill. 

Fortune Hadebe – Picture Supplied

The growth of the initiative caught the eye of the business that owns the University residence, CGES, and they engaged Fortune to take on other properties in and around Johannesburg. CGES now provides Fortune with services such as legal and accounting, enabling he and his team of six to focus on the operational side of the business.

Reroute’s key aim is to divert waste away from landfill. They do this by creating value out of the waste through on and offsite recycling and by offering rebates to those who create the waste.  

As Reroute is a commercial entity, growth is important to Fortune, not only from a financial point of view, but also to ensure that the business can effect change in other locations around the City. He has already experienced y-o-y growth through two revenue streams: both internal through the partnership with CGES, and through their external sites where he offers waste management for a fee as well as recycling.

While Fortune’s efforts are extremely noble and needed, there is still a long way to go in South Africa as green issues are not as high on the agenda as they could be. He says, “We need to start with ourselves and the next person as it starts at home and at work. It is a matter of each citizen doing his or her part to ensure that the green transition is top-of-mind. Consider the load-shedding we are currently experiencing; if we introduce the green agenda across the board, we will not be talking about load-shedding in years to come. But we still have such a reliance on coal, and this needs to change.”

ocean-i

A former CA, Ursula van Eck took a sabbatical in 2019 and found herself pondering how she could make a difference to the amount of waste that ends up in our oceans. To put South Africa’s ocean waste into perspective, a canal that runs through Blue Downs on the Cape Flats in Cape Town, and ultimately joins the Eerste River flowing into False Bay near the Helderberg Marine protected area, ranks among the 1000 top polluted waterways in the world, while we also have nine rivers that are on the list that contributes to moving waste and plastic into the ocean. “This is not something to be proud of,” she says.

Ursula van Eck – Picture Supplied

Ursula and her former business partner founded ocean-i with the aim of finding ways to prevent the flow of plastic into the sea and producing innovative new products from recycled plastic. Among ocean-i’s plans is to create self-sustaining mini-hubs in low-income communities where residents would be encouraged to bring their plastic waste and earn rewards: either in basic foodstuffs, cleaning products or airtime. Through this she intends to reframe the narrative that waste shouldn’t  be thrown away – it can be reused, repurposed or recycled in some way and thereby upskill, create employment opportunities as well contribute in some way towards stopping waste from entering the ocean.

Another fascinating area of the ocean-i business is the re-cycling of cigarette butts. Before founding ocean-i Ursula saw the extreme volume of butts on beaches and in public places and wanted to do something about it. Through her research she found that butts are the most littered item on the planet and are made of a type of plastic which means they don’t biodegrade. However, when processed with other typically non-recyclable plastic, they produce an additive that can be applied in the production of concrete products, instead of using sand. Of the prototype concrete products developed, using the additive of recycled plastic and cigarette butts, ocean-i teamed up with an architect Pieter Matthews, to create a uniquely designed bench and a fun and funky cigbutt bin. The additive is also being used in paving and piping, among other products. This is truly an innovative way of reusing something that is just flippantly thrown away.

While the business is still in a start-up, it is aiming to implement a cigbutt pilot project at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town from which cigarette butts will be collected (each bin is sold with a monthly recycling contract) and recycled. Thereafter ocean-i intends on engaging other mixed use precincts, developers, landlords etc.

Lockdown also presented an opportunity for ocean-i; while the sale of cigarettes was prohibited, people still smoked by sourcing products illegally. During this time, ocean-i trialled a home-kit for smokers to collect their butts, and drivers would pick them up for recycling.

She says, “Whatever we can do to get cigarettes out of landfills and our rivers will make all the difference.  We want to find new ways to recycle and use plastic for new products.”

Ursula has also started building a relationship with the Sparks Schools, brokered through Endeavor South Africa, where environmental education is being taught to the youth. She says this is where it begins. So many adults do not recycle and less than 9% of plastic is recycled so educating the youth on the 5 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle – at home is where it all starts.

Both Fortunate and Ursula are shining examples of what can be done through innovative thinking and finding solutions to environmental problems. Of course, these types of efforts need support from local Government, but for now Endeavor South Africa and the UK-SA Tech Hub is connecting South Africa’s up and coming green economy players to one another to enable learning, sharing and growth.

And this is how we can make sure green stays firmly on the agenda.

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