Why a Recycle Swop Shop should be coming to a school near you.
I was invited to take a look at a Recycle Swop Shop project in the settlement of Du Noon, Cape Town, by project manager Mariah van der Westhuizen.
When I arrived the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Women, old and young, as well as children were queued outside Inkwenkwezi Secondary School waiting for the shop to open.
I took a peek inside the school hall where the event is held every Tuesday. Volunteers were bustling around with enthusiasm, earnest to prepare all the goods before the stampede entered. The area was divided into two sections: one for clothes, shoes and toys, and the other condiments, toiletries and basic food.
The volunteers were stationed at each stall. Maria van der Westhuizen and Louise Vonafakidis were at the desks to tally up the products bought by counting the tokens awarded for collecting recycling. The women from the Du Noon community calmly swayed around the room as they surveyed the products available. Most were looking for clothing for young children at the centre table while the rest lined up at the necessity’s stall to purchase mielie meel, sunflower oil, condiments or toothpaste.
“Open the door! Let the little ones in,” yelled Louise to a volunteer manning the entrance. Once the women went out, children rushed in and made a b-line for the clothes and toys. With volunteers helping the operation run smoothly, it was not long before they were at the ‘tills’ and presented their recycling tokens to be counted.
“You have 14 recycle tokens and the shirt costs 10, how much change will you get?” Louise asked a young boy.
“Four,” he answered confidently, and was rewarded by an extra token.
How long have the projects been running for?
There are two Recycle Swop Shop projects in Maria’s care. Inkwenkwezi Secondary School in Du Noon has been operational since May 2011. Her other project started earlier this year.
What inspired these projects?
Maria was inspired by Marilyn van der Velden in Hermanus, who has been running a similar swop shop in Zwelihle since 2003. Maria started the project under NPO Beyond Education, a group of business people who try address the ever-growing need in impoverished communities and, together, began to partner with other people and organisations share their vision (Beyonded).
Maria was joined by Louise and they partnered on projects since October 2011, sharing their “amazing passion and love for this project. There are also volunteers from the local community who assist with the Swop Shop buzz.
How does it work?
- Collection: People from the community and school learners fill up bags of recyclable waste that is lying around the streets in Du Noon.
- Deposit: These are brought to the Swop Shops, which is set up at Inkwenkwezi Secondary School (Du Noon).
- Sort: The full bags are sorted by volunteers and tokens are given out for each bag brought.
- Reward: With these tokens the people from the community and the school children can enter swop shops where they can buy all sorts of necessities such as clothes, food, toiletries and school essentials.
How successful has the initiative been?
“It’s been really successful, the numbers are increasing and the community seem to love it,” shared Maria.
The swop shop in Du Noon ran from May 2011 until December 2012, and then it closed for eight months. It was re-launched in September this year at Inkwenkwezi Secondary School, with the support from Head Master Mr Kutu, who “recognised that this project was making a difference in the lives of the learners and community of Du noon.”
Working in close partnership with Pauline de Klerk and Mr Kutu, this project has achieved marvellous results for the month of September when it reopened:
- Total recyclables collected in weight : 3,770 tonnes (90% plastic)
- Participants: 443 people
- Total operating days = 6
- On average : 1 person = 9kg OR 6 bin bags = 18 tokens
How can I help ensure that such a wonderful project remains sustainable?
After seeing how beneficial this initiative was to the community and how excited the locals got on Swop Shop day, I wondered how I could do my part and keep such a project going. “Du Noon is 30% sustainable,” Maria shared. After visiting the Beyond Education website I saw that they indeed had a ‘Donate’ button (click here to donate). It is possible to get involved by donating either money or sponsoring goods. 100% of the money donated goes directly into purchasing items for the Swop Shops.
The Recycle Swop Shop is an excellent way to teach a community and young learners to value their waste as a resource. The project also employs volunteers from the local communities to assist in running the shop. Apart from proactively leading to cleaner and safer neighbourhoods, the initiative inspires responsibility towards ones environment.
By Soninke Combrinck
- Women queuing outside the school hall.
- Maria van der Westhuizen (left) helping a customer and Louise Vonafakidis (right) assisting a young girl
- Children digging for toys
- Local volunteers and volunteers from Beyond Education
- A girl showing off her recycle tokens
- Women shopping for clothing