JOHANNESBURG - For Lucas Mafa, other people's trash is literally a source of livelihood that sustains not just him and his family but also allows him to retain four employees.

Mafa, aged 46, runs a centre in Diepkloof, Soweto which collects on average 48 tonnes of milk and juice cartons each month for recycling. Mafa and his team go out trawling shops, taverns, schools and commuter taxi ranks, while some of the material is brought in by community members. He also collects polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles used to package fizzy drinks as well as other grades of plastics, tins and cans.

In a country grappling with unemployment of over 27 percent, Mafa is glad to have a source of income, but it is a tough business, both physically and financially.

"When the collectors bring their recyclables, they need to get paid for them, as it is their source of income. The bakkie (truck) I hire to pick up material from all over Diepkloof is an expense. The staff that works for me, need to get paid every month," he says.

What keeps Mafa going, is recycling companies like Mpact and Tetra Pak, which provide him a steady source of demand.

The two companies have also pitched in to supply Mafa's Diepkloof Buy Back Centre with 10 new trolleys, sign boards, and personal protective clothing, assistance he believes will help him double his output.

“We have the capacity to process more numbers, especially the liquid packaging and this partnership will assist with that," he says.

"We can process and sort material faster and more efficiently. With the centre working at an optimal level, we can create more jobs, and improve the overall sustainability of the community."

Mafa's initiative not only allows the community to earn money by selling recyclable household waste, but also benefits the environment, said Mpact Recycling communications manager Donna-Mari Noble.

"We can always do with more , whether at home or independent buy back centres," she said. "We recognise the work being done by Mafa and his team and wish to ensure they continue recycling and educating the community at large on the power of recycling."

An estimated 50,000 tonnes of liquid packaging is consumed per year in South Africa.

“Milk and juice cartons are used by consumers daily and can be found everywhere," Noble said. "Mpact now has the ability to process these cartons at its state-of-the-art facility based in Springs, which has the capacity to recycle 24,000 tonnes of used liquid cartons per year."

For Mafa, recycling isn’t simply a business, but a way of creating a sustainable environment.

"Ultimately as the business grows, it will also help in reducing the waste going to landfills,” he says.

- African News Agency (ANA)