Luvuyo Ndiki, founding chief executive of Red Cup Village, started making recycled cups used at universities. Supplied image.
Luvuyo Ndiki, founding chief executive of Red Cup Village, started making recycled cups used at universities. Supplied image.

A thing of beauty was a plastic bag at dawn - designer turns trash into treasure

By Norman Cloete Time of article published Sep 19, 2021

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Johannesburg - The age-old adage that, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”, has never been more true than when it comes to Luvuyo Ndiki, who takes waste material and turns it into things of beauty.

As the country gears up for Recycle Week (September 20-26), the spotlight will shine on what South Africans can do to protect the environment.

Ndiki, founding chief executive of Red Cup Village, started making recycled cups used at universities and today, not only does he play his part for the environment, but makes unique and beautiful objects that adorn many homes and business spaces.

With the use of 3D printers, Ndiki, who is just 30 years old, and his team create masterpieces from recycled material and form part of what they say is the solution to plastic waste.

And while South Africa lags behind in the plastics war, Ndiki says we are making strides.

“We should be recycling 80% of our plastics if we want to reach global standards.

“If I am being honest, I would say we are only clocking in at about 15%,” he said.

Breaking down plastic is labour intensive, time consuming and very costly but with the aid of modern machinery, this process is becoming faster and financially feasible.

Some of the unique designs Ndiki and his team have created. Supplied image.

“You need huge and expensive machines to break down plastic.

“It needs to be graded and we simply don’t have the infrastructure that our global peers have.

“Consumers will also tell you that the aesthetics don’t work for them.

“If you take paper straws for example, people just don’t like them so we have to find new solutions,” he said.

These days Ndiki and his team look back in amazement at when they started with their plastic cups and now create anything from glow-in-the-dark cellphone covers to lamp shades, picture frames and even mini-models for gifts.

“The advances in technology really helped the recycling sector.

“We can now custom-make almost anything that a client wants.

“We have even branched out to the medical sector with our bio-degradable products and designs,” he said.

The self-made green entrepreneur said while the climate is in crisis, the good news is that it’s not too late to turn things around with small but powerful changes.

According to analysts at Research & Markets, South Africa sends about 95 million tonnes of waste to its 826 landfill sites and less than 40% of the materials are recycled.

The nation produces more than 65 million tonnes of hazardous waste, of which only 6% is recycled.

Some of the unique designs Ndiki and his team have created. Supplied image.

In light of Recycle Week, South Africans are called upon to ‘Step It Up’ and play their part in saving the planet.

Now in its 18th year, Recycle Week, hopes to highlight the importance of recycling across the nation.

During the week, retailers, brands, waste management companies, trade associations, and the media aim to encourage South Africans to come together to achieve one common goal: increase recycling efforts in the country.

For Ndiki, the seed that fostered his love for the environment was planted in his early years as a young boy at Bathurst Primary School, situated between Grahamstown and Port Alfred, in the Eastern Cape.

“As young learners, then already, we each had a garden that we needed to take care of.

“We were just 35 learners so it was easier to manage.

“The produce from our veggie gardens were sold at markets in the area.

“We were graded for our gardens by the missionary teachers and it was a serious affair.

“That experience proved to be so valuable to me,” he said.

Ndiki, who has been called a Proudly South African disruptor, said while his 3D printed, biodegradable designs and product offerings merge innovation and sustainability, the bigger picture is saving the environment.

Some of the unique designs Ndiki and his team have created. Supplied image.

“We want to educate fellow South Africans on the importance of sustainability and sustainable living. Investing in green growth can reduce poverty, inspire job creation and general economic growth, which South Africa needs more than ever,” he added.

To achieve creating beautiful objects, Red Cup Village uses 3D scanning and 3D printing technology to produce high-quality and innovative products that help users make a difference in society.

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

An object is created during an additive process by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created.

Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced cross-section of the object.

“What usually takes up to two years to construct with traditional manufacturing, takes a matter of hours using 3D printing.

“Nowadays, consumers want products that work well and they want them now, and it’s up to manufacturers to meet these demands,” he said.

The green ambassador said establishing a ‘circular economy’ is among the visionary ideas being championed to address the problem of waste.

The idea relies on developing an economy where the value of waste is never lost – incentivising against illegally discarding plastic waste so that these materials can be collected, sorted and used to make new plastic products.

On this front, Red Cup Village has distinguished itself for its commitment to using locally-grown raw materials derived from corn-starch, sugar cane and recycled plastics. In so doing, the company hopes to functionalise the ‘circular economy’ and kickstart the sustainability project in South Africa.

“The future is our collective responsibility, and the actions we take in the present day are what will allow it to take shape.

“This is why we’re encouraging all South Africans to actively participate in Clean-Up & Recycle Week SA this year and in years to come.

“The future generations will thank us,” he said.

The Saturday Star

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