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Environment

5 South African Women Who Are Using Plastic to Drive Change in Their Communities


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals call for 17 steps that will end extreme poverty globally by 2030, including gender equality and creating cities and communities that are sustainable. These women are proving that these goals don’t have to be addressed individually, and that there are amazing and innovative solutions to tackling several goals at once. You can join us by taking action here, to be the generation to end extreme poverty. 

We live in a world where the production of plastic runs rampant; where the single use of plastic continues to be practiced; and where plastic waste ends up in open landfills, oceans, and on the side of the road.

There’s no doubt that plastic waste is one of the most key issues affecting the environment and human health right now. 

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Although in 2016, about 42% of plastics used in South Africa were recovered, some 0.667 million tons still went to landfill, according to the South African Plastic Recycling Organisation. 

But when recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60 watt bulb for up to six hours — there a lot of better uses for plastic. 

And women are leading the way in harnessing the power of plastic and recycling. Here are five women in South Africa who are showing that waste doesn’t have to be rubbish — and it even has the power to transform people’s lives. 

1. Lynn Worsley — All Women Recycling

All Women Recycling is a name that really captures the essence of the organisation’s values. It aims to both reduce plastic waste, while also empowering previously disadvantaged women by providing them with business management and sales skills. 

Learn more: Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in Johannesburg on Dec. 2

The Cape Town-based business was founded by Lynn Worsley, who’s on a mission to kill two birds with one stone and save the environment while uplifting women. 

The organisation creates an eco-friendly gift box, known as the Kliketyklikbox, from discarded plastic bottles. And it gave new life to 1.2 million plastic bottles in 2016 alone, selling about 350 of the boxes every day. 

2. Thato Kgathlanye & Rea Ngwane — Rethaka Foundation

Thato Kgathlanye and Rea Ngwane have found an innovative way of using up old plastic, while at the same time providing children with education supplies. 

The Rethaka Foundation creates its “Repurpose” school bags from 100% upcycled plastic bags — and they even have an integrated solar technology that charges during the day and provides schoolchildren living in non-electrified parts of South Africa with light, to help keep them safe and so they can study in the dark. 

The foundation gives children who have to walk long distances to and from school the opportunity to continue with their education, even when there is no natural light left. And it’s helping women with employment opportunities too! 

3. Salphy Nkoana — The Masupatsela Women’s Cooperative

Salphy Nkoana launched the Masupatsela Women’s Cooperative in 2011, with the aim of helping women proactively eradicate poverty in the South African township of Tembisa. 

The organisation collects recyclables from more than 600 homes, shopping centres, and schools, and then sells them to factories to be turned into other plastic items. Community members can also benefit, by selling their plastic recyclables to the organisation. 

This cooperative is fully supported by the municipality, which has built a yard for the women to operate from, and provides necessary resources — like the bags to collect the recyclables. 

The name Masupatsela is a Sesotho word meaning “those who show the way,” and it perfectly describes this organisation. It’s not only raising awareness about the impact of plastic pollution, but it’s also showing how plastic can be used to generate a community income. 

4. Quinette Goosen, Glinise Howard & Olive Grimsel — the Uitenhage Recycling Mula Swop-Shop Project

Three women based in the Eastern Cape, Quinette Goosen, Glinise Howard and Olive Grimsel are encouraging children to be part of their recycling project in exchange for points.

The Uitenhage Recycling Mula Swop Shop project — which started in 2015 — runs on the principle of exchange. So children earn points by collecting recyclables, which they can then “spend” on items like toiletries, toys, stationary, and toys. 

With over 700 children registered children on the project, the Mula Swop Shop is reported to benefit up to 300 households a week. And it’s also helped remove nearly 74,000 kg of plastic from the community. 

5. Nelisiwe Radebe — Remarkable Waste Management

Nelisiwe Radebe is moved by an awareness of what happens to the environment when waste isn’t properly managed. So she launched her recycling business, Remarkable Waste Management, with the aim of organising waste, so it doesn’t end up in landfills and causing pollution. 

Her business provides recycling bins, as well as integrated waste management services, waste removal, safe disposal of waste, and recycling services. 

Her model encourages community members to start recycling programmes in their own homes and workplaces. 

First, the different types of waste are identified — like food, cans, glass, and paper — and then they’re sorted out and put into separate recycling bins. And it’s all helping create jobs, provide training, and raise awareness about how to keep the environment healthy. 


The partners for the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 are our Presenting and Major Partner The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners, House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and Associate Partner, HP and Microsoft.

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