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Tembisa mom turns illegal dump site into vegetable garden

Itumeleng Phiri originally started a recycling business on the site, then a food garden.
Image: Stefan Wermuth, Bloomberg

For years Itumeleng Phiri watched in frustration as people illegally dumped rubbish on a field near her home in Makhulong section, Tembisa.

“The land has been vacant for many years. At some point, the grass was very overgrown in many parts,” she said.

Phiri, who became unemployed in 2012, started the recycling project, Itumeleng Future Solutions, in a bid to clear the large volumes of waste being dumped at the field.

“I wanted to keep busy and contribute to my community in some way,” said Phiri, who lives with her four children.

When she started the project, Phiri would push a trolley around Tembisa, sometimes at night or in the early morning, to collect recyclable waste. “If there were functions happening at night, I left the house at around 9:30pm to go and collect recyclable materials from the rubbish at those functions. I would return home between 11pm and midnight and go out again around 3am,” she said.

Nearly a decade later, Phiri says she has partnered with companies such as Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa and Mpact to grow her business and would like to employ more people from the community.

She sorts and stores the recyclable materials she collects on a portion of the field.

On average, Itumeleng Phiri’s project collects between 300kg and 500kg of recyclable waste over weekends to resell. Image: Masego Mafata

“I’m still on the ground doing a lot of collecting. On average, we collect between 300kg and 500kg of recyclable waste over weekends alone, which amounts to between R1 500 and R2 500. Through recycling, I can afford to take care of my kids, buy food and pay rent,” said Phiri.

Her main challenge is transporting the materials. “If I had a bakkie or a small truck it would be much better. Right now, I’m using a small trolley. Sometimes, I have to make multiple trips to one place because I cannot carry all the recyclable materials,” she said.

Last year, Phiri started a food garden on a portion of the field. She currently employs eight people and grows spinach, cabbage and morogo.

Phiri’s son Kgalemo, who helps in the food garden, said, “People have been trying to use this land for farming for years. There have been challenges with the dumping. But as more people become aware of the work my mother is doing, they seem to be more involved in recycling and starting their own food gardens.”

Currently, Phiri uses her produce to feed her family, sells to neighbours who can afford it and gives some to people who do not have food. “Eventually, I would like to supply local fruit and vegetable vendors,” she said.

This article was first published on GroundUp here.

© 2021 GroundUp. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


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These organic energy hubs, settled in-between the communities are the nexus to the Green Economy. They enable input, innovation and disruption from everyone in the surrounding communities.

Using appropriate technology to recycle, up cycle to art, craft and repurposed solutions,, regenerate via compost swales and good water design are what will liberate not only Economic empowerment, but great nutrition and a cleaner, greener Planet in the future.

Viva the Green Economy. Viva Phiri and Kgalemo. Ask not what the green economy can do for you… what can you do for her?

Well done and good luck to you.

Be sure your “food” is not absorbing toxins and poisons from the soil at this waste dump, otherwise it will land up killing your customers?

Very relevant Bob; all it needs is some agricultural extension support systems but dreaming on.

Fantastic! Now where is the ANC and the Department of Agriculture? Or even just R100,000 from Dear Cyril? Or Patrice? It’s election time!

Sigh …

End of comments.





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