DURBAN - With a borrowed bakkie and determination 10 years ago, three Newcastle men started their recycling business.
Today the three own a recycling centre which produces 2200 tons of recovered recyclable material annually.
Gcina Makhoba, one of the three directors of Mpilenhle Recycling, based in Madadeni in Newcastle, said that when he started the venture with Sandile Makhoba and Phila Dlamini, they did not even own a vehicle.
“When we started the business in 2008 we were three entrepreneurs from Osizweni township using a borrowed bakkie. We started with one product, which was glass,” Makhoba said.
They built up their business working out of an abandoned bus depot, but with the assistance of the provincial Environment Affairs Department in Amajuba, they applied for a government initiative to build a buyback centre.
“We started with glass doing 13 tons a month and now we do 220 tons a month of recyclable material like glass, boxes, cardboard, paper and plastics,” he said.
Mpilenhle Recycling employs 40 people. “We have 13 female and 27 male employees and most of them fall into the youth category because they are under 35,” Makhoba said.
He said a very important component of the work the centre did was indirectly providing income to the community.
Recycling started in homes and many of the collection sites were in the local community, Makhoba said.
“Community members bring recyclable material to our site, we weigh it and then we pay them cash. Some of the people tell us they are fully dependent on the work we do,” he said.
Makhoba said the centre had a database of 350 to 400 community members a month.
KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala visited the centre recently as part of the provincial government’s Operation Sukuma Sakhe, which “takes the government to the people”.
“We want to thank them for this initiative. They have been innovative in venturing into the recycling space.
“The Department of Environmental Affairs, through the work of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs officials, have supported this initiative and built this facility for them,” Zikalala said.
Zikalala pledged the department’s commitment to continue supporting the business.
With the business making a profit, Makhoba said they had bought a second-hand granulating machine, which cuts up hard plastic and granulates it into small pieces.
“We have already found a market,” he said.
Makhoba said they were “extremely happy” with their progress and “excited” about the opportunities ahead.
“We are able to sustain ourselves through something that people consider as waste, but we see it as wealth.”
He believes that with the focus the government was putting on recycling and the green economy, there were a lot more people who could benefit from recycling.
His advice to budding entrepreneurs was for them to get started where they were, with what they had.
“The other thing is patience because it takes time to learn the industry that you are in and it is important to understand the numbers in terms of income and expenses,” Makhoba said.