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TrashBack puts high value on waste

By giving rewards for the collection of rubbish, a local enterprise is starting the process of changing how we view our trash. TrashBack incentivises people to manage their own waste by collecting it for recycling.

The benefits of a system like TrashBack are huge – more waste will be recycled, communities will become cleaner and more aware of recycling practices, and people will be better equipped to manage their own refuse. Trashback launched its pilot project, Uphinda-phindo! this month in Imizamo Yethu, in Hout Bay, and although the reports are still being collated, there has been an overwhelming response.

To date, 1736kg of recyclables have been collected from 248 registered participants. In just over two weeks, nearly two tonnes of mixed recyclables have been collected. Uphinda-phindo is taking place in partnerships with local NGO Green Living, and the local depot, the Hout Bay Recycling Co-op.

On their launch day on 3 September, the TrashBack organising team were happily surprised to see people from the Imizamo Yethu community arriving at the depot “way before the scheduled time, and by 1pm we already had a queue developing in the collection area”. Terence Goldberg, one of TrashBack co-founders laughs as he remembers “one man walking in with a whole wheelie-bin full of bottles from the local shebeen”.

Recyclables are measured in volume, and participants are allocated points, which are registered to their personal profiles. At the end of each collection period, rewards are given to those with the most points. Goldberg is careful to point out that TrashBack is “not just giving handouts”. The rewards act as encouragement for people to take pride in their environment.

Currently, rewards consist of food and shopping vouchers, and clothing and books, but the team hopes to extend the rewards to airtime, school textbooks and travel vouchers. The team is also introducing litter-awareness campaigns in the community, which have been a success so far. “It is great to see kids excited about it, and their teachers supporting it too”, Goldberg says.

TrashBack has been in preparation since the beginning of the year, and the team are currently focusing their energy on making the project sustainable and ironing out any problems, but once a routine is in place and they are able to gauge reactions and outcome, their plans know no limits. “We want people in disadvantaged communities to get away from a cult of apathy and take pride in actions that benefit their community”, explains Goldberg. Ultimately, the goal is to train communities to ‘up-cycle’, by using recyclables to create products that can be sold at a higher value. The team is completely transparent with all their data available on their website.

There is a significant and noticeable lack of effective recycling in South Africa, especially in poorer communities, and many people think that a rubbish-filled street is indicative of a disadvantaged community. This, however, is not the case. Goldberg uses the Brazilian city of Curitiba as an example to show how a poor city, with good management, can be a highly efficient, environmentally-friendly and sustainable one too. The TrashBack team view the project as much more than a small community upliftment scheme. They are carefully monitoring and planning every detail of their pilot project so that they can perfect it over time, and eventually have depots across the city.

All photographs courtesy of the TrashBack team.
Community members queue to hand over their recyclables at the depot.
Recyclables brought in after the first day of collection.
A rubbish tip in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay.
BulkSMS.com is supporting TrashBack with SMS messaging for their recycling campaign in Hout Bay.
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