Recycling plastic waste is fast becoming a viable business for Lesedi Manufacturing Primary Co‐operative (Lesedi), in Alexandra township.
The 11-member green cooperative enterprise, the first of its kind in this township, has capitalised on cleaning the litter-strewn streets of Alexandra by collecting plastic scraps from the local community in exchange for cash.
Lesedi was formed in 2008 when a plan to mobilise 200 women in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, into various cooperatives failed due to lack of funding.
But for cooperative members Mercy Letsholo and Zoleka Ntshololo giving up was not an option.
Hungry to start a cooperative business, in conjunction with other community members, they searched for viable business opportunities in the township and recycling, although not a pretty job, provided such an opportunity.
“We thought if there’s money in recycling we can’t go hungry. We’re going to turn this into a business. Recycling would help keep Alexandra clean and we would also make money,” says Letsholo.
But obtaining seed capital to get the cooperative off the ground was a challenge. The business needed a site where the recyclable material would be collected as well as machinery to compress the waste bottles. And the money the cooperative members contributed on a monthly basis was not nearly enough to cover the costs.
They approached various financial institutions, but instead got sent from pillar to post, with doors being shut in their face.
But, these tenacious entrepreneurs refused to accept defeat.
The cooperative enterprise finally got a lucky break in 2011 when the National Youth Development Agency invested just over R1m in the business.
The money enabled the business to move forward. Lesedi has since leased a local site to lodge its operations, purchased equipment, including machinery to compress plastic bottles into bales, and has working capital.
But the cooperative still faces challenges that threaten to stunt its growth.
The enterprise makes use of a rented truck to transport bales of recyclable scrap to the recycling plants they supply. Compliance with health regulations means they have to rent an eight-ton truck more frequently than before, hitting the business hard in the pocket.
“Initially we used to rent the truck only when we had 25 bales because the truck costs R800 to rent per trip. Now we have to rent it every 10 bales and it’s very costly. If we can raise money to buy our own truck we would save a lot of money,” says Ntshololo.
As part of a cost-cutting exercise, the cooperative also had to lay off three of its six employees.
But despite the odds stacked against them, the members of the cooperative still have big ambitions to turn the green enterprise into a fully-fledged factory where all types of plastics can be recycled and manufactured into useful products.
This will need a serious cash injection, but they do not see this as a hindrance as they remain determined to keep knocking on more doors.