Nomdumiso Sibiya stands on a heap of waste in Diepsloot, north of Joburg. The social entrepreneur and her business partner Sbusiso Shongwe are fighting against the scourge of illegal dumping.
Nondumiso Sibiya is nowhere to be seen. Eventually, her tiny frame emerges from behind a towering heap of waste at an illegal dumping site in the heart of Diepsloot township, north of Joburg.
The 21-year-old has been at the site all day, sifting through the mounds of waste recently dumped in an open space in the township.
“This never used to be a dumping site. All of a sudden it has emerged overnight, out of nowhere,” she explains.
Sibiya, however, isn’t surprised. For years, she says, there has been an alarming amount of illegal dumping in the area, which has created an unsanitary and unsightly environment in the sprawling township.
“Diepsloot was once a beautiful, clean farm. Now it’s the township where waste has found a place to call home,” she says.
Having spent her life in Diepsloot, Sibiya feels deeply hurt by what it has become.“As a young girl I would often go to the river and see the frogs jumping in and out of the water. I would see the fish swimming through the clean river water. There were barely any illegal dumping sites.
“Now the rivers are filled with waste. You no longer see any frogs or fish in the water. Over time, everything has changed. Trucks just come and dump their illegal waste anywhere they like.”
There are also barely any open spaces left - they have all been filled by illegal waste, she says.
“Kids can’t even play in the empty spaces because of the illegal waste, so they are forced to play on the road. A while back I had to take a kid to the hospital because he got knocked over by a car while playing on the road. These are the problems that illegal dumping has created.”
But Sibiya isn’t sitting on the sidelines. For the past year, the social entrepreneur and her business partner Sbusiso Shongwe have put all their focus into looking for ways to solve the scourge of illegal dumping.
This has led to the creation of Boombadotmobi, an online waste management system, which aims to alleviate illegal dumping by collecting garden waste and building rubble - and providing proof of proper disposal.
“I haven’t always been environmentally conscious, but living in Diepsloot has helped me a lot,” says Sibiya. “I started noticing a trend where people were throwing away waste as if it were nothing... There was even building rubble being disposed 50m from my house.
“It actually enlightened me and opened me up to a broader way of thinking in which I could make a difference where I am staying and not expect people from outside to solve problems here; because they don’t know the problems here and it doesn’t impact them.”
Her company assigns jobs to those operating rubbish removal trucks in Diepsloot who work within the city’s environmental by-laws to dispose of rubble and rubbish.
They use the rubble to build up eroded roads or construct homes in the township. Garden refuse is given to local farmers for compost.
“One of our major aims was to be able to reuse waste in a positive way. So instead of the waste going into the rivers and into our parks, we use the building rubble to rehabilitate our roads in Diepsloot to make our city more beautiful. From the mixed waste we also get things like books, which we then give to school kids who are in need.”
What waste they are unable to make use of ends up in landfills, says Sibiya.
Their services are designed to cater for homeowners, construction firms and private companies.
“Through working with my business partner, we realised that the problem wasn’t here in Diepsloot, but rather in the suburbs. People didn’t know where their waste eventually ended up and that was the biggest issue.
“We engaged with residential organisations in suburbs and asked if they knew where their waste lands up.
“We told them it lands up in Diepsloot every time. An average of six trucks come here every day and dump illegal waste.”
Sibiya and her partner now have agreements in place with several residential organisations to handle their waste instead of it being dumped illegally in the township.
“We sell responsible waste disposal. This has kept us in good standing with our customers. What sets us apart from our competition is that every single customer gets a photo of the final destination of their waste.”
While Sibiya and Shongwe have a mighty task at hand trying to restore Diepsloot to its former beauty, they feel they are up to the task.
“I’m from Diepsloot. My heart is here, so why should I leave this place dirty? Many people finish their schooling here, get their diploma and move to the suburbs and forget about the problems here.
“I don’t find that’s actually helping to change the psychology and history of Diepsloot. There are around half a million people who stay here. Kids need role models and I feel it’s not helpful to run away from problems.
“We have waste problems, crime problems, service-delivery problems. I thought why don’t we turn this into an opportunity and make money out of it and help young people in the process.”
Sibiya has been given a helping hand by Red Bull manufacturer which has selected her as one of the social entrepreneurs to be part of its Amaphiko programme. Sibiya receives funding and mentorship to run the business smoothly and efficiently.
She hopes Boombadotmobi will change the cycle of waste.
“I see plastic having value. I see all sorts of waste having value. We want to show people that you can turn normal waste into valuable things.”