According to recent statistics, 95% of South Africa does not recycle and as of 2017, the country has a 28% unemployment rate. Packa-Ching, a community-based initiative spearheaded by the Polyolefin Recycling Company (Polyco), aims to increase household recycling rates and simultaneously uplift communities in South African informal settlements and lower-income areas by incentivising a change in behaviour. By tapping into a stream of recyclable material that is largely untouched, the project is educating consumers about recycling and showing them that waste has value.
Packa-Ching is a mobile buy-back centre that travels into communities to purchase recyclable materials from the public. It was inspired by traditional models of the buy-back centre and “swap-shop” where trash is exchanged for cash or goods. Packa-Ching Project Co-ordinator, Brooke Kuhne, says, “We looked at existing recycling models and adapted them to achieve something that is accessible to all South Africans and is both efficient and sustainable. By taking the service to a person’s doorstep and rewarding them for their materials, recycling is no longer seen as inconvenient.”
Payments are made by money being loaded onto a special debit card called a KilorandsTM card. This operates the same way that a gift card does, in that money is loaded onto the card in real-time and can be spent immediately at any MasterCard-accepting outlet.
The project launched on the 21st of August 2017 in Langa, Cape Town. In just six months, with only two morning collections per week, this community has recycled over 100 tonnes of waste, about the same weight as 19 elephants, and in exchange received over R100 000. “We have heard the most inspiring and encouraging stories about the project from members in Langa. A recent one came from an elderly lady who is a regular at Packa-Ching. She looks after her grandchildren and relies solely on government grants to take care of them. Since Packa-Ching launched, she has saved up her money each week and over the December holidays was able to take her grandchildren with her to the Eastern Cape for Christmas, as well and purchase school uniforms for the year ahead,” says Brooke.
Packa-Ching partnered with WastePlan to service the Langa community, who agreed to buy every kilogram of material that Packa-Ching purchases from this area. Their truck delivers the vibrantly branded trailer to one of two specific sites in Langa for a few hours, visiting each site weekly. This ensures access to the service for all community members without having to travel far distances at all.
Community members bring their separated recyclable packaging material to the kiosk where the material is checked, weighed, and exchanged for money that is loaded onto their personal KilorandsTM card. This alternative payment system removes the logistical challenge of accounting for cash and stock, while also avoiding the security issues that currency attracts. All an individual needs in order to register is a basic cell phone, which also functions to communicate information and allows users to cancel a lost or stolen card or check their available balance.
Polyco CEO, Mandy Naude, says, “We are also conducting an ethnographic research study to understand how users are responding to the project and how effective Packa-Ching is in terms of shifting perceptions about recycling and the value of waste.” Initial findings showed that there is a strong stigma attached to waste collection and handling, as it is seen as a dirty and poverty-associated activity. Through observation and interaction with users, change is being noticed, whereby certain individuals seem to be more willing to collect recyclable waste from others or pick up litter, in order to earn more money at Packa-Ching. A second phase of research interviews will confirm these results in the coming months.
A crucial component of changing this negative perception is education and public awareness, and Packa-Ching knows that. The project takes care to use bright, attractive colours in their branding to convey a positive mood. In the month leading up to the project launch in Langa, they experimented with a variety of advertising methods and found on the ground, personal community activation to be the most effective. Packa-Ching ran education campaigns in each of the nine schools in the community, featuring educational performances with an industrial theatre group and an interactive mascot, Packa-man – the Packa-Ching logo come to life. They also produced age-specific educational booklets to teach children about recycling and encourage them to take the message home to their parents.
The rollout of Packa-Ching will see two kiosks operating at full capacity (a minimum of nine collections per week) in 2018. The work-in-progress “franchise” model boasts the benefit of enterprise development, whereby an entrepreneur will be sub-contracted by a waste collection partner to own and run a Packa-Ching unit. By securing sponsorship to cover a portion of the operating costs of this unit, in exchange for an attractive brand exposure opportunity, the business model becomes profitable for an owner driver. “We are so excited about the developments of the model, as we believe this will really give the project legs and spread the positive impacts it has created,” says Mandy.