I love win-win, which is what Oasis is. When I visited I smelled biscuits baking, saw recycling happening in every possible open space, and met lots of happy people, who save 24 000m3 of landfill each year. The people at Oasis are intellectually disabled.
I don’t know that one would find more meticulous recyclers. Linda, for instance, works with paper: one by one she takes the stickers off the corners of thousands of patient reports from Groote Schuur and Medi-Clinic so that the pages can be recycled.
The stickers/glue would otherwise spoil the batch. The pages are then shredded as they contain confidential information. She feeds the paper into the shredding machine 50 pages at a time. In the past Linda used to do this by hand.
Don’t think that one drop at a time doesn’t fill the bucket; it does. 240 tons of waste is recycled here per month! 80 tons of it is paper, the rest is glass, plastic (numbers 1 and 2, i.e. soft plastic such as water bottles, carrier bags and bubble wrap), and tins. Local people drive into the centre in Claremont with their recyclables, the Oasis team carry the load from the car to the sorting area, and there it is streamlined. Over 2000 households bring in stuff each month. The only request is that the tins and bottles not contain food debris.
A winner for people and the environment
“It’s a winner for people and the environment,” commented Des, Oasis fundraiser. “A huge amount of waste is processed, sparing the earth and giving people here a livelihood and purpose. The public also gets to experience what loving and helpful people disabled people are, and a gulf is bridged that might otherwise not happen.”
250 corporates choose Oasis to do their recycling too. As the volume in these cases is greater than with domestic drop-offs, Oasis does the collecting using their dedicated trucks.
People in the workshop have different degrees of disability, but there is a role for each to play.
“Those who need a quieter environment and more boundaries are assigned to an occupational group who work in a quiet room, undoing pages leaf by leaf from old novels and books,” explained Des. This paper goes into recycling too. They don’t take short cuts.
The benefits are mutual
“This is one of the reasons why we run such a fantastic recycling service; in fact we can’t keep up with the demand. It’s the quality our workers bring. They love what they do and are eager and meticulous. It’s a social activity for them as well as a task.”
Remember the 3 Rs (reduce, re-use, recycle)? Well a successful ‘re-use’ operation is run here too in the form of a second-hand book and bric-a-brac shop. The donations help to reduce waste (people bring old clothes and household items that would otherwise end on the landfill) and generate an income. The centre raises 42% of the funds it needs each year, a high figure for an NGO.
Oasis hums with activity and is far from institutional.
“People drive in continuously to drop off materials and end up staying for tea at our famous bakery; Mondi, Consol and others are picking up once or twice a week; and we get lots of visitors,” said Des. “Sponsorship is made easier by this – people can experience the recycling centre first hand.”
I asked about organic kitchen-waste recycling – it seemed to be the only missing element in the recycling rainbow. But there’s literally no space. The tiny square of grass is a dedicated ‘soccer field’.
According to an Environmental Affairs media statement issued in 2007, South Africa has set a national target of reducing waste going to landfills by 70% by 2022. Certainly this small band of special people is contributing towards making that happen.