More from Tony - An exceptional recycling project in South Africa
The “JBay Recycling Swop Shop” - Innovation in aid
Black townships in South Africa: crowded, stricken with AIDS and unemployment, and carpeted with rubbish.
All newcomers to South Africa are startled to find these townships are only a few kilometres from mostly white suburbs of big affluent homes.
In Jeffreys Bay, home to the Billabong Surfing Competition, 80km south of Port Elizabeth, a wave of goodwill, compassion and mindfulness is gathering momentum.
Here, a group of like-minded people are following a brilliantly simple plan in which children collect recyclables like plastic, glass, tins and cardboard; deliver it to a central collection point, get paid in tokens (mulas) which they can spend at the ‘kids only’ swop-shop on the same premises, offering anything from new bicycles (350 mulas) to a bar of soap or marbles.
This project, co-ordinated by Carina de Flamingh and enthusiastically backed by the whole community, gives the kids a goal and a taste for ‘work’. Instead of hand-outs, they learn the idea of ‘value for value’.
The whole operation involves about nil working capital but needs 15-20 adult volunteers for each Monday. The stock for the shop is all donated by individuals, traders and institutions. The Jeffrey’s Bay Rotary Club keeps the accounts and members throw their weight behind the volunteering.
This low-cost style creates a remarkable package of benefits - cleaner towns, paid jobs for kids, educating kids about budgets and shopping, and material benefits for families.
The Jeffreys Bay shop, open from 1 -5 pm, sells no lollies or soft drinks and instead, items like toothpaste, toys, soups, cereal packets, shoes, warm tops, underwear, pencils, scissors, and notebooks are all hot sellers. In a single day, some children can return three times with recyclable material to sell.
The shop’s youngest client is a two year old girl, who trots in weekly with her small bag of scraps and trots out with a rainbow-colored 1 mula clip in her hair. Children up to 13 swarm in lugging sacks of trash, sometimes artificially weighted with stones. Carina is not offended; they have the right idea but the wrong approach, she explains.
One nine-year-old, Hyne Titus, had ogled a brand new donated bike, price 350 mulas. To win it he brought in 48 bags weighing 417kg of plastic and glass.
The volunteers are continually surprised at the responsible way children spend their mulas – a child might return home after two hour’s rubbish collecting with a bar of soap, a toilet roll and a tin of sardines.
Helpers often recognise and help children whose apathy is born of hunger or illness (especially intestinal worms). They also find cases in AIDS stricken households where children are minded by children or raised by impoverished friends of a bereaved family.
The shop right now is just a canvas base with temporary hessian walls around it, just outside the Pelsrus Primary School. The goodies are in packing bins, graded as boxes for one mula, 5 mula and 20 mula products. (Not much different from a ‘pretend’ shop those Western kids might create in their rumpus room).
The shop opens Mondays for receiving sorted rubbish from the kids, issuing mula currency and registering the kids to also give them a savings passbook in mulas, ready for a big spend-up next week or month. A long line of kids forms up at 1pm sharp, eager to get first crack at the shop’s goodies.
Once the shop day ends at 5pm, a volunteer van and trailer arrives to take the trash to the recycling depot, and by 6pm the shop workers have removed all trace of their shop until next Monday.
The recyclable rubbish gets only a small payment from the recyclers – 10c per kilo or 30c per kilo delivered to the depot. The JBay Recycling Swop Shop in its first four months of operation this year (2011) took in over 17 tonnes of sorted waste from 781 kids, and issued tokens for +- 30,000 Rands worth of shop goods.
Donations of stock are essential.
In a typical week, 160 kids will collect and sort close to a tonne of recyclable material. Some kids put in an hour a day collecting and others somehow manage three deliveries in a single Monday.
The projects mix formal and informal systems. Now that it is growing fast, it is putting in submissions for improved grants and donations of services. But there is not even a committee running it. Whatever is needed, Carina calls up helpers and they get the job done.
The scheme is full of small complexities but all are solvable.
• outside the shop must be a small weighing station
• Glass, paper and plastic bags need to have standardised values
• Each child must be registered and passbooks created
• Someone has the job of flattening bottletops into 1 mula coins
• Stock for the shops must be constantly replenished, priced and packed for Monday’s trading.
• All logistics problems sorted out for bulky rubbish – in the Jeffreys Bay case, between one and two tonnes per shop session. (At the moment several houses of volunteers are awash with shop stock because they have not yet found a lock-up shed for it).
“Above all, this gives hope and a better start in life for kids whose prospects used to be unimaginably bad,” Carina says. “We run all this on a can-do basis. We don’t worry about next year, we just make sure our shop is stocked-up and open for business next Monday.”
Carina at firstname.lastname@example.org