From working on the ground with street cleaning to owning her own waste management company, Nokuthula’s story is inspirational.
Dobsonville local, Nokuthula Tshabalala, began her journey in the waste sector in 2015 after working for Pikitup and eventually went on to own her own company which collects and resells recyclables, effectively diverting them from landfill sites.
Tshabalala said this is where she saw first-hand how dire the need was for more buyback centres and waste management companies within the province.
Armed with the experience and expertise from working on the ground around street cleaning and educational awareness and then moving on to managing over 250 staff members, Tshabalala felt confident that she had amassed enough knowledge and she took the plunge to open up her own company – Trash 2 Treasure in 2018.
The former Wits University tutor who has a rich background in education, she said while she was passionate about teaching and still is, she started to gravitate towards the waste sector.
Tshabalala did not only see opportunity within the increasing waste crisis within the economic hub and surrounds, but also a chance to create job opportunities for her community as the company grows.
“I saw a lot of opportunities – not just recycling but manufacturing as well. Through waste, the possibilities are endless.”
Tshabalala cites her family as the motivation behind her starting, despite the challenges faced, as her mother who also is a part of the company also has extensive experience in waste management and does the administrative work for the company.
“My mother started working as a street cleaner at Pikitup. She enrolled herself in Hector Peterson Secondary School for evening classes, she passed her matric, and after that, she was promoted to team leader.”
She continued her education journey through Unisa where she got her Advanced Diploma in Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET).
“There were people who laughed and mocked her, the very same people that laughed at her, she was the one later teaching them at Pikitup and later became the head of facilitation.”
She said perceptions needed to still be changed in the industry and more South African women need to come into the sector and make use of the opportunities on all fronts. “They lack knowledge and need more access to information to learn and understand that there’s money and employment in waste. Education and awareness are mostly needed to educate our brothers and sisters that yes, they will get dirty but it’s for a good cause.”
She said while the industry had come a long way, rising companies like hers are faced with too many middlemen and price fluctuations among others which disrupts their stability. The entity has, however, received according to Tshabalala, support from the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the form of equipment to run daily operations.
Trash 2 Treasure is also currently under Producer Responsibility Organisation, Fibre Circle’s, SMME Development Programme which supports entities to grow their businesses within the sector.
Tshabalala said she takes pride in her becoming an example for her community to see recycling differently and hiring six employees in the entity.
“You see the change in people opting to separate and now bring their waste or request us to come collect, and also the community is now living in a cleaner environment.”
“Trash 2 Treasure Recycling & Waste Management is growing and our aim is to produce or extract gas from all the landfills and to manufacture roof tiles using plastic waste.”
She said women should not be afraid to take the mantle and lead. “You can start small, arm yourself with knowledge and take the step. We as women need to stand up for ourselves and work hard now more than ever. In the spirit of ‘imbokodo’ and the power of women in business, understand your might as a woman.”
“All things are possible if only you believe and remember God’s grace is sufficient for all of us. Rise, women, rise.”