Pravashen Naidoo, the founder of Pietermaritzburg-based firm E-Waste Africa, has found a niche market in the recycling of hazardous light bulb waste.
Pietermartizburg businessman Pravashen Naidoo gave up the stability of a corporate job with a multinational firm to find the solution to a growing environmental problem - the safe disposal and recycling of hazardous light bulb waste.

Naidoo, 35, electro-mechanical engineer and founder of E-Waste Africa, said it was when his father asked him what consumers were supposed to do to safely get rid of Led and fluorescent light bulbs that his business began to germinate.

Naidoo is a finalist in the national 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year competition.

Naidoo said he spent a year researching the subject during his spare time before he finally quit his job to pursue his passion to make a difference in both the environment and the economy.

Naidoo matriculated at Pieter- maritzburg College in 2000 and went on to graduate with a BSc in electromechanical engineering from UCT.

“I wanted to do something different, something no one else in my family had done,” Naidoo said.

His first job was as part of a trainee management programme at British American Tobacco in Stellebosch and in Heidelberg.

He then joined Associated Energy Services as an operations manager for KwaZulu-Natal before landing a top job as plant manager for Unilever in Durban at the age of just 27.

“One day my dad asked me what we did with used light bulbs at Unilever, and what people should be doing with their light bulbs. I did a Google search and it led to a few hours of searching and a lot of investigation,” Naidoo said.

Most traditional light bulbs contain hazardous materials such as mercury and thorium that, if released into the environment, can create serious public health and ecological concerns.

Mercury

While the mercury content in bulbs has reduced significantly over the years, even compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and energy-saving bulbs contain a few milligrams of mercury.

Naidoo was determined to find a solution. “I spent a year investigating it while at Unilever,” he said.

His investigation took him to the UK where he visited a company that was selling the technology he would need to be able to recycle light bulbs.

“They sell the machinery to be able to capture and sell the by-products. They’re the only company in the world selling the technology.”

Naidoo pooled his pension and life savings and quit his job in 2013 to start his light bulb recycling firm in Pietermaritzburg to handle the hazardous waste in a legally compliant and ethical manner.

He imported the necessary machinery from the UK, which enabled him to be the first to open a commercial lamp recycling plant in the country in 2014. His wife, Karishma, also quit her job and joined the business as financial manager.

“Before I resigned, I applied for a loan. I thought the business would go live in three months but it only went live nine months later and it took two years to get an HH Waste Management licence (to recover and recycle hazardous waste),” he said.

Naidoo focused on diverting waste previously sorted at businesses, and destined for landfill sites, to his recycling plant to extract the glass, plastic, metal and other materials, mostly for resale back into the raw materials markets.

“People often don’t realise that practically all components of light bulbs - the glass, metals and other materials - are recyclable.

“As a safe light bulb recycler, we offer a full range of solutions to ensure the safety of both people and the environment, while ensuring the re-use of these materials. These services include on-site storage, collection, transportation, recycling, all while ensuring full beneficiation of the by-products,” Naidoo said.

“While some recycling systems only deal with specific types of lamps, and the processing of others may require additional purchasing of expensive front-end add-ons or separate stand-alone systems, our state-of-the-art lamp-recycling technology allows our system to process all fluorescent lamps (FL), compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), ‘energy saving bulbs’, and all other types of light bulbs, without the need for presorting,” Naidoo said.

Naidoo was granted a R1million interest-free loan by the SAB KickStart programme in 2015 and a R400000 grant which helped his business immensely. He opened a waste storage facility in Gauteng in 2016 and to date has prevented some 800 000kg of hazardous waste from entering landfill sites. He is confident the firm will hit the 1 million kilogram mark in two months.

Naidoo is passionate about both saving the environment and building the economy.

His business employs 22 staff and his vision is to grow the firm to employ 200 in the next five years. Staff include former waiters from a local coffee shop who now work on his sales team and an expert with a doctorate in chemistry.