From rubbish dumps to Sun City, women stake their claim in waste sector

File photo. Waste pickers Abigail Kubheka and Adelina Nkopane sort recyclable material in Soweto. Picture: Reuters

File photo. Waste pickers Abigail Kubheka and Adelina Nkopane sort recyclable material in Soweto. Picture: Reuters

Published Dec 2, 2022


Johannesburg -There is a new breed of waste entrepreneurs and they are female. Women are making great strides to stake their claim in the informal and formal waste management sectors.

Waste entrepreneurship is traditionally a male-dominated sector but through collaboration, innovation and support from various government and private initiatives, female waste entrepreneurs are slowly making their mark.

While women have made significant strides in becoming more active participants, they still face several challenges, particularly women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

The societal expectations for women to rear children and take on domestic chores hold some women back from fully realising their potential in the industry.

This compels some women to bring their young children along with them to landfills when collecting trash.

The majority of waste workplaces are characterised by terrible health, cleanliness, and sanitation standards, placing the health of women and children at risk.

Recently, in a show of appreciation for women working in these less-than-desirable conditions the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in partnership with the Western Cape Recycling Action Group (WCRAG) donated Dignity Bags to the female waste entrepreneurs.

Since September a total of 258 ‘Give Dignity’ bags have been distributed to female wasteentrepreneurs consisting of reusable sanitary wear, facecloths, deodorant, soap, toothpaste,and toothbrushes. Picture: Supplied

Anton Bredell, Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning said “Providing dignity to women and protecting the environment can go hand in hand, as this initiative from my department demonstrates".

"Recycling is crucial for reducing our footprint on the environment and waste entrepreneurs play an important role in the recycling economy. Women are the bedrock of our society, and I encourage initiatives that support and recognise them".

The Dignity Bags gifted to female waste entrepreneurs contain reusable sanitary wear, facecloths, deodorant, soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.

One of the great female waste entrepreneur success stories is that of Ofentse Melato and Tshego Molefi who have been friends since they were kids.

Tshego a former journalist and Ofentse a corporate administrator. resigned from their jobs to embark on an entrepreneurial journey by starting a cleaning services company.

Things didn't go quite as planned for the pair despite having submitted their profile to several shopping centres around Sun City in the North West.

Their story changed when they received an unexpected call.

According to Melato, they received a call from Sun Village in a panic. “Their waste management service provider had dropped them.” They needed a refuse company to assist them urgently.

This was the beginning of Moli and Mela as a waste management company which has grown exponentially since then, with their staff complement now sitting at 57 and their turnover increasing by 1415%.

The exponential growth is largely due to the contract they secured with Sun City which kicked off in July 2022.

Ofentse Melato and Tshego Molefi, founders of Moli & Mela, handled all the waste produced at the Nedbank Gold Challenge, held recently at Sun City. Picture: Supplied

Winning the contract was no fluke, the two women were determined to secure the Sun city contract.

“We were intentional about the fact that we wanted to win Sun City, so we went about learning as much as possible about the waste situation,” says Melato.

The two ladies are not resting on their laurels and they endeavour to start a commercially viable manufacturing plant where they will use recycled plastics to manufacture plastic products such as bins, bottles, and crates among other items.

Of great importance to them is to create employment for the local communities and with this project, they aim to employ a further 300 people.

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