KZN waste recycling project wins European Union’s Platforma Award

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A waste recycling project at Nquthu, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has won a Platforma Award from the European Union. The Nquthu municipality has been working with the Belgian town of Bornem on the project since 2008.

The aim is to provide a platform for the local community to sell their reusable waste material. Jobs have been created for more than 143 people.

For years, Thulani Mtshali could not find work in the rural area of Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Having three children to support, he was demoralised that he had to depend on his father, who is a pensioner. That is until Mtshali became a waste picker.

“I did not have any income, and I was wishing to get money due to the shortage of job opportunities, I couldn’t support my children. My father ended-up supporting my children, which was not good,” says Mtshali.

Puleng Mokoena is another local waste picker. Mokoena too, could not put food on the table.

“I can submit 24 tons and I get money. I can now support myself and my family. I have five years now doing this job in KZN, at Nquthu three years and in Free State, its ten years,” says Mokoena.

Mtshali and Mokoena are among the beneficiaries of the co-operation between the Nquthu municipality and Belgian town of Bornem, which started in 2008. With the support of Bornem, the Nquthu municipality runs a project to collect recyclable waste.

Waste pickers like Mstahli and Mokoena sell used plastic, paper and glass to the Buy-Back Centre. The centre, in turn, sells the collected waste to a recycling company. More than 140 people have found employment through the project.

Approximately R23 million has been spent on infrastructure development, buying machines and equipment, and also the running of the Buy-Back Centre. The centre is knowledge and sharing-based. The Nquthu and Bornem Municipality Co-operation took the second place in the European Union’s Platforma Awards 2020 with the ‘Waste for Employment’ project.

The mayor of the Nquthu local municipality, Zama Shabalala, has expressed his gratitude about the achievement and he says it will help the municipality to promote and attract investors and tourism.

“The level of Nquthu has improved as it recognised by the European Union and this shows that in Nquthu, we can make a difference in people’s lives and it gives a platform to whoever wants to form a cooperation with us to know that the town of Nquthu can make it better. It will help us to attract investors and promote tourism as part of improving the economy to another level,” says Shabalala.

Shabalala says he’s happy that the project involves mainly the youth.

“More than 51 youth that represent their ward also participate in the project and they make sure that people are taught by the project and they collect waste and bring it to the Buy-Back Center. I am happy that they can support themselves,” says Shabalala.

Ayanda Majola, Waste Ambassador Manager, teaches the community about the project. She says it has been an eye-opener to the community.

“I am happy as the community has learnt how to maintain waste, they have learnt that not all the waste must go to the landfill site, so most of the waste can be re-used and renewable for their own benefit,” says Majola.

Looking towards the future, Nquthu Youth Council executive member Khanyile Mazibuko believes young people should strive to form cooperatives to become independent.

“I would like if the municipality can help us to develop the businesses of the local youth so that we will rely on the municipality for financial assistance. We want to be independent. The youth must cooperate to support ourselves and be independent as youth,” says Mazibuko.