Some think it’s an urban legend that all bread tags collected in boxes across the Cape Peninsula and further afield go to a granny in Noordhoek, who provides wheelchairs to the needy. Think again. I went to visit Mary Honeybun to experience her incredible Bread Tags for Wheelchairs project.
And if you’re still wondering what you can do to help this world, here is something that anyone can do. Out of useless pieces of waste, one person renders a crucial service to disabled people in need.
Mary Honeybun’s tiny lounge is abuzz with piles of bread tags in the process of being sorted and washed, telephone calls of people needing wheelchairs and another collecting one for her mother who had had a stroke. Yes, I’m talking about the tiny plastic tags which keep your breadbag closed.
33 disabled now have wheels
In between Mary tells the story and shows me the pictures of her work over the past 3 years since she started collecting the tiny bread tags – something which most people discard without giving it a second thought. She sells them for recycling and so facilitates the handing out of wheelchairs for disabled people, mostly with the help of the Rotary Wheelchair Foundation. Altogether 28 steel and 5 Hillsong plastic wheel chairs to date. Most of the recipients of the chairs had lost limbs through diabetes or the ability to walk due to a stroke.
Originally a friend had started collecting the bread tags, but they were then sent to Durban by mail. Mary took over and organized, gradually and mostly by word of mouth, an extensive collection system right across the Cape Peninsula and into the Western and Southern Cape – George, Knysna, Worcester and now up to a prison in Fort Beaufort. Calls from keen collectors and needy disabled folk’s families arrive from right across the country.
There is even a librarian in a retirement village in Howick who now wants to collect bread tags for her. The list of schools, shops, banks and hospitals and other collection points is too long; this has become a huge affair. Standard Bank has collection points at all their branches in the Western Cape. This year so far Mary has sent a total of 1100 kg of bread tags for recycling – that is 55 black bags full!
This initiative of course rest on the backs of all the dedicated collector who place her boxes, encourage friends to do the same. The network is so large that Mary doesn’t even know who is all collecting for her any more. She simply receives the bags and gets to work. This is a case where one golden heart simply evokes others to join, as always happens.
Not even 4 new hips can stop her
Mary lost her husband a few years ago and has had 4 hip replacements due to severe arthritis. In spite of failing eyesight, and not being able to drive any more, there’s no stopping this tiny bundle of determination.
Some wheelchairs have gone to the Caeli campaign (this is a girl in an electronic wheelchair, who does shows together with other children in wheelchairs), Agape in Grabouw, Christel house in Ottery, the Carlisle Lodge in Fishhoek, Mamma Lumka (the wheelbarrow lady) in Lwandle township and the Eros school in Goodwood. Even the Department of Social Welfare have received a wheelchair for a workshop in Guguletu.
The very first wheelchair went to a young lady’s mother, who came down from Oudtshoorn to help her with her baby, but then had a stroke.
All the dedicated collectors ensure their bags of tags are delivered to her house. Mary sits down for hours every day, sorting the tags from other weird items that slip into the collection boxes and separating clean ones from dirty ones. Then the soiled ones are washed and packed into bread bags. Full bread bags go into black bags and are stored in her garage.
Very often creative delivery systems are worked out to get the tags to her, to limit extra costs and carbon. Take the ingenious way in which the tags get to Groplast in Randfontein, where they are melted down. Brett Young from Bay Flora runs a plant nursery that receives plants and seedling trays from the Randfontein area. Mary’s bread tags hitch a ride via this existing transport back to Groplast.
The transformation process
This is where the tags, made from high impact polystyrene (HIPS), is put through the recycling process together with expanded polystyrene (EPS or plastic type 6), such as food trays and cups in the following process:
- Different colours are sorted
- A hammer drill pounds it down into granules
- They are sucked up into canvas bags mounted on top of 4 elements with steel screws inside
- When full it is heated up to 200°C, so it melts inside
- This is called extrusion
- This liquid pours out in long tubes into ingots or moulds of 10kg each
- These are sent to companies who create a number of products from recycled polystyrene, such as picture frames, skirtings, cornices, seedling trays, curtain rods and tiebacks.
So now polystyrene goes back onto the market in a full circle.
Mary and I drove over to Ocean View in Kommetjie to visit 2 beneficiaries at the Centre for People with Disabilities. At the Workshop for the Disabled they were stripping coat hangers used once only by shops, to get them ready for recycling. Due to the progressive nature of Michael Koopman’s condition, he had to have an electric wheelchair, which he deftly drove around and reversed into place for our photo session with him and Randall Finck.
Long waiting list of desperate people
Mary believes in acting locally, so tries to hand out wheelchairs close to home. She would like to encourage more people, particularly schools across the country, to start collecting bread tags for recycling. You need to create a central depot in your area. This can be done anywhere. You can find more details on how to do this here. Mary is also supported by Polystyrene SA, who have helped her organize the transport for her tags to the recycling plant and made HIPS containers for her collections. They also supply her with labels and photo frames, which she hands out during her talks to schools and other groups. But Mary mostly likes to re-use old boxes, thereby keeping them in the loop too.
What is your biggest need, I asked Mary.
‘I would love more schools and shops to start collecting bread tags, but my biggest need is for more wheelchairs. There are ten people on my waiting list. There has been a long delay in the arrival of wheelchairs from China, and it seems Rotary is now negotiating to get them from America. Sometimes when I get desperate to help someone, I simply purchase one from my local pharmacy, but this is very pricey. You should hear the very sad stories people tell me.’