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Woman gives up day job to dig in dirty trash bins for environmental benefit

Nokubonga Mnyango gave up her day job and now makes a living while ensuring a clean community and environment. Picture: Supplied

Nokubonga Mnyango gave up her day job and now makes a living while ensuring a clean community and environment. Picture: Supplied

Published May 10, 2023


Pretoria - Waste collection is not simply digging in dirty trash bins and sorting out rubbish; it is a way of making a living while ensuring a clean community.

Driven by this belief, a KwaZulu-Natal woman gave up her day job to scratch around for waste.

In 2014, Nokubonga Mnyango quit as a driver-cum-admin clerk at a wood chipping mill in Richard’s Bay for what some community members described as “digging in dirty dustbins”.

Today, she runs two thriving buy-back centres in Empangeni, employing 22 full-time staff and supporting 100 waste collectors in the community.

Her hard work and passion for recycling have been recognised by South Africa’s longest-standing producer responsibility organisation, Petco, that has on behalf of its members, supported her journey from wastepreneur to buy-back centre owner.

Mnyango now keeps waste out of the environment and gives it value by bringing it into the circular economy. It has also helped Mnyango’s community to thrive.

“My love and passion for the environment drive me. When I quit my job for ‘scratching in dirty dustbins’, people laughed at me. But I knew that this passion would lead me somewhere.”

The same people who laughed later asked her for jobs, she said.

Mnyango now owns and runs Empangeni’s thriving Uthando Solutions and Trading recycling buy-back centres.

Uthando collects about 202 tons a month of mixed recyclables – including plastics, paper, cardboard, and cans – which, in turn, are sold to recyclers.

It boasts 22 permanent employees who collect and sort recyclables. It also buys recyclables from 100 waste collectors for its two operational sites.

“Uthando means ‘love’ in Zulu. I chose the name because I love the environment and keeping it clean.”

Mnyango said her company uplifted the lives of the people in the neighbouring townships – these areas are now clean without any rubbish: regarded as money lying around.

She has also created jobs in the community. “Most of our employees and the waste collectors we buy from are from the local community.

“We’ve given the waste collectors a purpose in life – a reason to get up in the morning and work. They’re not sitting on the sides of the roads anymore.”

Besides providing them with an income, Mnyango and her team also educate and motivate them to collect waste. “We educate them to treat waste as a treasure because it has value.”

Extended producer responsibility was legislated in 2021, which makes it mandatory for producers of packaged goods to take responsibility for the management of their packaging – from designing it to be recyclable to its post-use collection to be recycled and reused. Waste littering the environment drove Mnyango to pursue her dream of opening her own buy-back centre.

She resigned from her job to pursue her dream of living in a litter-free society. “I started collecting recyclables in the community, doing house-to-house awareness, and asking people to work with me.”

Petco, meanwhile, sponsored a large, branded recycling collection trailer when Uthando Solutions hit the milestone of two tons of recyclables a month in 2016. Her collection increased over time to seven tons a month and later to 30 tons a month.

Petco’s latest backing is the installation of a baling machine at Uthando’s Empangeni site for the baling of collected recyclables. This will assist the waste collecting community to increase their selling of recyclables to the company, thus enabling more households to put food on the table, all thanks to waste.

Pretoria News