Owner of Okuhle Waste Management, Maxwell Ndlovu, is a savvy entrepreneur who has grown his recycling business from a tiny operation in a side-street in Johannesburg to the establishment of two well-equipped buy-back centres in Jeppe Street and Denver, which collect about 300 tonnes of recyclable material each month.
Ndlovu is one of over 45 entrepreneurs to receive assistance from Mpact Recycling to start and grow their own buy-back centres. Equipment in form of scales, trolleys, bags, bins and cages was provided by Mpact Recycling to help increase the volumes at the centres it assists.
Mpact Recycling communication manager, Donna-Mari Noble, says Mpact Recycling has helped establish 45 Mpact Recycling buy-back centres throughout Gauteng. “Of these, eight new centres were established in areas such as Soweto, Tembisa and Boksburg last year.”
The programme brings in more than 104,000 tonnes of recyclables every year, significantly boosting the 630,000 tonnes of recyclable material collected by Mpact Recycling annually. The rest of the recyclable material is collected through Mpact’s own operations throughout the country as well as its 2,000 Ronnie Banks nationwide. It also buys material from more than 100 independent dealers countrywide.
Noble says one of the greatest benefits of the programme is that it creates informal employment for thousands of people in local communities. “According to the Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (PRASA), recycling provides jobs for about 100,000 people in South Africa, many of whom are entrepreneurs and small business owners reliant on sustained volumes of recycled material to earn a living.”
Mpact does not only collect paper and paper-based packaging. Other materials include plastic PET bottles, which provide the material for the company’s polymers operation. In addition, long-life milk and juice cartons – a relatively new grade – are now processed through a recently established liquid packaging plant at Mpact’s Springs mill.
Other grades, such as cans and other plastics, are sold on to other recyclers in the country, thereby closing the loop and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the buy-back centres.
Noble says Ndlovu has done so well that he opened a second buy-back centre in Denver last year. “Maxwell can only be described as industrious and driven, with an ability to seek out new opportunities and take his business to the next level.”
He started the Okuhle buy-back centre in 2011 with a scale, Zozo hut and two bins in a small passageway. Since then, he has grown his business to incorporate two large sites in Jeppe Street and Denver respectively. He also formally employs 21 people including drivers, administrative assistants, balers, sorters and cashiers.
Ndlovu attributes his success to several factors. “I work long hours to accommodate the many collectors who deliver recyclable material to my sites, often starting off at six in the morning and knocking off at 10pm. Because the recycling market tends to be volatile, I try to keep my prices constant during the month, thereby easing income uncertainty for my suppliers. Trust and respect are an important part of the Okuhle culture, which is why I try my best to accommodate the individuals who supply me with material. Many of them work incredibly hard to earn a living.”
Maxwell notes that between 100 and 200 collectors pass through his buy-back centres every day. “Each person specialises in specific materials, from plastic PET bottles and various grades of paper and cardboard, to the more recent long-life milk and juice cartons.”
No business is without it its own set of challenges. For Ndlovu, a major challenge was the intermittent supply of electricity to his one centre. He worked closely with Mpact to resolve the issue, making use of a first-of-its-kind diesel baling machine, mostly to bale PET due to its volume and light weight.
Mpact Recycling small business manager, Desmond Moloisi, who oversees Mpact’s dealings with buy-back centres in Gauteng, says Ndlovu’s buy-back centres are two of many in the province to supply Mpact. “Maxwell’s business operates off a low margin/high volume model. This, combined with Maxwell’s understanding of his target market, means the business is highly successful.”
Ndlovu’s relationship with Mpact has allowed him to harness new opportunities. In 2017, he was awarded a contract by Pikitup to assist in a cleaning parts of the City of Johannesburg. More recently, Ndlovu was part of a trial to assist his local McDonalds outlets in sorting their recyclables for processing and ensuring general tidiness at each site.
He was also awarded PETpreneur by PETCO in 2017. The PETCO awards recognise individuals, organisations and companies that contribute significantly to advancing PET recycling, whilst reflecting the principles of Extended Producer Responsibility and circular economy-thinking in their practices.
Ndlovu believes it is important to set goals and work hard. “I also employ young people to inject creativity and new ideas into the business and am passionate about teaching and giving back to the community,” he concludes.