“‘n Boer maak ‘n plan,” we say in Afrikaans. Literally translated, it means a farmer makes a plan, and refers to a farmer’s ability to think on his feet and devise a new way of looking at something.
Although he is not a farmer, Korean born and South African raised Jimi Son has come to embody the true South African attitudes of resilience, creativity and ability to find a solution for a problem. This Pretoria resident is busy transforming the face of South Africa’s recycling industry, by finding new ways of recycling post-consumer polystyrene and singlehandedly diverting thousands of tons of polystyrene from the country’s landfills.
A passion for polystyrene recycling
Jimi’s entry into the recycling industry is thanks to his exposure and experience gained at his parents’ successful extrusion business. They are manufacturers and suppliers of picture frame mouldings, profiles, cornices and even embellishments used on coffins that are sold directly to the end market. Jimi’s father frequently had to deal with shipping delays and exchange rate fluctuations, which had a dramatic impact on his business.
“This caused us to start looking around for local, readily available material that we could recycle and use in the products instead of the imported virgin material. At that time, polystyrene was available in abundant supply, but was considered to be difficult to recycle and had very limited end markets,” Jimi explains. Other obstacles that they had to face was transporting the very light, but bulky material to their plant, working with often heavily contaminated and soiled products, and the different colours of polystyrene that they had to use.
Jimi refused to accept defeat, and started adapting their existing machines. “We soon found that we were able to effectively use and recycle all kinds of polystyrene for our specific purposes – even slightly dirty, post-consumer, coloured and even high impact polystyrene,” he says, adding that they have been accepting and using every type of polystyrene that they got from waste collectors.
Jimi turns 20 tons per month into picture frames and moldings
Jimi is quick to point out that his success is not the result of individual efforts, but credits the power of forming strategic partnerships. “We realized early on that we cannot do this alone. Since we started our operations, we have taken great care to build and grow the relationships we have formed with local polystyrene manufacturers, waste management companies, municipalities and associations such as the Polystyrene Packaging Council. We also buy factory scrap from other polystyrene factories and pelletize the material in-house.”
Jimi currently recycles 20 tons of polystyrene per month that goes into decorative picture frames and mouldings sold throughout South Africa, with future growth projections showing that he will soon need in excess of 100 tons per month to keep up with the demand.
We need polystyrene in every shape and colour
“We need a lot of polystyrene in every shape and colour that we can get. To this end, we are also very grateful that our paths have crossed with those of Adri Spangenberg and the Polystyrene Council who has been instrumental in putting us into contact with sources of material around the country,” Jimi says.
Today, the company employs 30 people on a full time basis at its factory in Silverton, Pretoria, and have also expanded their operations into Cape Town. Their new recycling plant in Durban is expected to open within the next few months. “We work closely with local municipalities and waste management companies to ensure we have their support and that they know that we are accepting any polystyrerene they can send our way for recycling,” Jimi says.
Waste management companies, schools, businesses, canteen and cafeteria operators who have large volumes of yoghurt tubs, plastic cutlery, coffee cup lids and other food containers made from High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) for recycling, are welcome to contact Jimi directly via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or on his cell 076 735 4044.