While most people simply cannot stand rubbish, the wife-and-husband team of Gladys and Bricks Mokolo thrives on it.
The Mokolos are the founders of Itsoseng Women’s Project, an Orange Farm-based waste buyback co-operative that turns residential waste into exquisite commercial products – ranging from corporate gift bags made from paper to teddy bears created from old and tattered clothes, and drinking glasses and cups moulded from broken bottles.
Simply put, at Itsoseng waste is gold.
“No waste must leave Orange Farm,” says Itsoseng Administrator Zanele Koloba. “We want to see all the waste generated in Orange Farm landing at our facility for recycling purposes.”
Itsoseng’s history goes back to 1997 when the Mokolo couple started collecting recyclable waste in the township and sold it to large recycling companies.
Today, the co-operative has its own waste buyback facility in Drieziek, in the heart of Orange Farm, southern Johannesburg, where its workers sort it into different types of recyclable material. This separation-at-source process is fully supported by Pikitup, the City of Johannesburg’s waste management entity, as part of its bid to reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfill sites, which are rapidly running out of airspace.
More than 1.6 million tons of waste ends up in the City’s landfill sites every year. To strengthen its support, Pikitup has provided Itsoseng and another co-operative in the area with the use of a waste collecting truck to enhance their separation-at-source initiatives. Itsoseng, which employs at least 12 people, purchases waste from local waste pickers.
Once the waste is in the co-operative’s premises and sorted into different types of recyclables – paper, bottles, etc – a baling machine is used to crush it. The waste is then packaged accordingly, waiting to be loaded onto a truck, which arrives at the centre on Tuesdays.
Mondays and month-end are the busiest times at the centre. Tuesdays are dedicated to the removal of non-recyclable items from the waste. It is at this stage that by-products are made. At the moment the centre produces these items at a limited scale but plans are afoot to build a factory to create adequate capacity for mass production, according to Koloba.
“Our aim is to sell the items to the corporate sector. Of course, the public will also be welcome to purchase them directly from us,” says Koloba.
“In future we hope to expand and sell the products to big retailers such as Mr Price Home, Pep Home and others. We’re positive this will be achieved,” she said.
Koloba says besides being involved in recycling, Itsoseng is also committed to women empowerment.
“We give them skills because we’re not only about recycling. Upcycling is also part of our business. With those skills women can create by-products such as teddy bears. With these skills they can go out there and make a living. Our desire is to see employment creators rather than job-seekers,” said Koloba.
Itsoseng also has built a crèche on site catering for 89 children, mostly of women who work at the centre.
A food garden has also been established to assist with the feeding of the children. The centre has also launched a community advice office that offers services such as advice on labour matters and social issues free of charge. A Good Samaritan recently donated computers to the centre. An internet café, to be utilised by learners and students, is also in the pipeline.