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Civil engineers keep it clean

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What goes around comes around as a business

Faith Diketane and Zwelibanzi Mnguni grew up in Tembisa, on the East Rand. This is “one of the many townships that have a large number of informal settlements,” says Zwelibanzi. “The lack of infrastructure and service delivery are factors which have aggravated the land and air pollution problem. As kids, we couldn’t enjoy playing outdoors as we were exposed to health and safety hazards to a large degree.”

Zwelibanzi Mnguni and Faith Diketane on graduation day

Both graduated from Wits as civil engineers in 2015 and they have started a business called Destination Green Recyling.

At high school, Faith wanted to be an architect, but Wits accepted her for Civil Engineering instead and she began to find it fascinating. “In a way, the career chose me.”

Zwelibanzi always had an urge to work towards improving the quality of life of his community. After matriculating, he spent a year working in the engineering industry to get experience of practice and procedures. This helped him decide on Civil rather than Mechanical Engineering as the best way to make the impact he wanted to.

Finding direction

They both credit lecturers Dr Precious Biyela, Prof  Akpofure Taigbenu, Dr Anne Fitchett and Prof Adesola Ilemobade for shaping their thinking and the way they should look at the environment. “Dr Biyela also helped structure our business.”

Their interest in recycling was sparked by the final year course in Integrated Resource Management, especially a research project which dealt with surface water management in the Diepsloot informal settlement. Students were given the challenge of finding an effective and realistic solution that was easy to implement.

The campus environment itself was another catalyst for Destination Green. “We realised that there were designated areas with recycling bins and asked ourselves why students were not making effective use of these bins. This led to a study of students’ attitude to recycling and environmental sustainability, and the trends of consumption among students on campus.”

Students and lecturers were supportive of their efforts to start a business, and so was the recycling industry, especially Plastics SA. “We started by collecting recyclables in Tembisa, from taxi ranks, supermarkets, schools and community streets, and have always had the aim of raising awareness and educating the public about recycling and environmental sustainability,” says Zwelibanzi.

Support from the industry

“Because of our passion, enthusiasm and drive we have received a tremendous amount of support from large entities and organisations in the recycling industry. The key members of Destination Green Recycling have been appointed as the youth ambassadors of the National Recycling Forum. This has allowed for crucial networking opportunities, access to markets and great exposure in industry.”

The company, in turn, trains young volunteers in waste management and environmental sustainability.

How does one make money from waste? The company started by focusing on collection and sorting of recyclable materials. “The materials are sold to the nearest buy-back centre offering the best prices,” explains Faith. “Recently Destination Green Recycling has upgraded to the buying and transportation stage in the recycling value chain. The company continues to do collections from businesses and households but also buys recyclable materials from community members who are dependent on selling these materials for their household income. Destination Green Recycling is also looking at ways in which recyclables can be reused into something else. This also plays an important role in diverting recyclables from landfills.”  

Negative perceptions

Collecting waste for recycling

“The biggest barrier to recycling,” says Zwelibanzi, “is the negative attitude that people have towards it. The greater society has classified recycling as a dirty trade which is meant for the poor. The earth and its resources cannot be sustained if people continue with a mind-set such as this. It is the responsibility of every individual to ensure a bright future for present and future generations.”

The association in some people’s minds of waste materials with poverty is one reason we South Africans tend to mismanage waste, Faith argues. “What we have observed is the undermining of people who are dealing with waste materials.” She says Destination Green is struggling to get even the municipality to work with it. 

“South Africans are very good at shifting blame and not taking responsibility,” adds Zwelibanzi.

 

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