Supa Mama initiative provides work opportunities for women and diverts waste from landfill

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Tuesday, September 9, 2014

<p>Thina Maziya, Managing Director of Verigreen, with some of the Mamas from the Supa Mama Programme (Image source: Conversation Lab)</p>

Thina Maziya, Managing Director of Verigreen, with some of the Mamas from the Supa Mama Programme (Image source: Conversation Lab)

A Pinetown plastic manufacturing company, Verigreen, have developed a waste to product initiative that involves skills training of formerly unemployed women and prevents plastic waste from going to landfill. The “Supa Mama” waste to product initiative works directly with 100 previously unemployed women (or “Mamas”) to supply Verigreen with uncontaminated plastic waste. The plastic waste that is collected is recycled and goes into the production of a range of “Supa Mama” drawstring refuse bags that is sold by retail outlets in South Africa.

The Supa Mama initiative is unique as it provides Mamas with skills training on waste sorting and the type of plastic that Verigreen recycles and pays them directly for their collected waste.  “We pay a premium for sorted plastic waste which is why training is so important. Rates are between R3- R4 per kg,” says Thina Maziya, Managing Director of Verigreen. The Mamas collect plastic waste from retailers, industrial sites, households and also on the street side. They then supply the waste directly to Verigreen which cuts out the middle man and results in the Mamas earning more for the waste that they collect. On average five tonnes of waste is collected by the Mamas every week for Verigreen. This waste is recycled into the Supa Mama bags and is prevented from ending up on landfill sites in Durban. 

The Mamas collect and sort plastic waste from retailers, households, and industrial sites and supply this plastic directly to Verigreen (Image source: Conversation Lab).

Maziya explains the idea behind the initiative, “The idea started when my husband saw a woman carrying a bag of plastic on her head. Being in the plastic industry he was curious to know where she was taking the waste. She then explained that she sells it to recyclers in the area, so she can earn a living and support her children. When my husband told me the story, I was moved by the woman’s strife and her efforts in trying to feed and educate her children. Being a mother and a business woman I thought that there could be an opportunity to work with such women and others who are unemployed and change their circumstances by paying them more than they would be if they sold the waste to recyclers. And so began the Supa Mama waste to product program.”

Training on the collection and sorting of plastic waste

Verigreen’s factory can only use uncontaminated plastics, like bread bags and shopping bags in their recycling facility as they don’t have a wash plant facility. Therefore it is extremely important that the plastic waste that the Mamas supply them with is uncontaminated. Verigreen therefore trains the Mamas in the types of plastic waste that they should collect for them so that they don’t collect plastics that they won’t be paid for. The Mamas are also trained to sort the waste that they collect which assists Verigreen as they then don’t have to sort the waste at their factory. 

The Supa Mama project involves the training of women in what types of plastic waste to collect. These include bread bags, cool drink wrapping, fruit and vegetable bags and shopping bags (Image Source: Mugnai Visions)

Maziya explains, “Verigreen has invested in a team, that goes out to recruit and train women in plastic waste collection, sorting and grading which are skills they can impart onto other women in similar circumstances as themselves. Training ensures that mamas are clear on what plastic waste can and cannot be recycled into new products by our factory especially because we don’t have a wash plant facility…When plastic waste is clean and sorted it means that you don’t have to work with it again in the factory, as it arrives you simply feed it to the recycler. If waste arrives unsorted it requires labour to sort it which unfortunately comes at a cost.”

Developing a sense of pride through uniforms and name tags

Each Mama that becomes a regular collector for Verigreen, is given a personalised name tag, uniform and protective gear. Maziya explains that this has helped the Mamas to develop a sense of pride in their work, “When we started working with the Mamas we identified that they were not particularly proud of what they were doing to make a living, so we decided to create a sense of belonging and pride by giving them uniforms, sun hats and name tags which identifies them as our brand advocates and members of a bigger community. We saw an incredible transformation, they are now more enthusiastic and very proud of being Supa Mamas especially because a tangible product is manufactured through their contribution.”

A unique payment system

The Mamas are paid weekly for the plastic that they collect via ABSA cash send, so that the Mamas don’t have to carry a lot of cash with them. The Mamas receive an SMS on their cellphones which they use to access their money from an ATM. This means of payment has however been a challenge for Verigreen, “We have had to give the Mamas extensive training in order to get them to understand how to draw their cash from the ATM.  Many of them have also lost their phones or change their numbers without advising us, which presents a challenge for us,” explains Maziya.

Challenges faced

Other challenges for the programme include that scheduled collections have to be arranged at various points as the Mamas do not have sufficient transport. In addition because the Mamas are illiterate they aren’t able to promote the initiative effectively. Communication with the Mamas is also another barrier as they are often difficult to get in touch with. 

The development of micro entrepreneurs

Maziya is proud of the initiative because of the impact that it has on the lives of the women, both economically and socially, “We are empowering women by turning previously unemployed women into micro entrepreneurs through skill training in waste collection, we are changing the strife of women who have children but lack resources to feed and educate them properly…Beyond earning an income that allows them to support their families these women are given a sense of pride and a degree of power. This female solidarity gives these Mamas a much needed psychological boost.”

How can individuals and organisations support the initiative?

The simplest way that individuals and organisations can support the initiative is by purchasing the Supa Mama recycled plastic refuse bags. “The success of this program is largely dependent on the success of the Supa Mama brand. The more Supa Mama refuse bags we sell the more waste we require and the more employment we create, and the more waste is diverted from the landfill,”explains Maziya.

If organisations have large amounts of plastic waste, Maziya says that they can form a partnership with Verigreen whereby a Mama is placed on their site to handle their plastic waste. The Mama would then be paid weekly according to the amount of plastic waste that is sorted.

The Supa Mama drawstring refuse bags are made from recycled plastic and come in three varieties; heavy duty, black, and green (Image Source: Mugnai Visions)

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Amanda Botes