ENVIRONMENT: Turning junk into fortune

Turning litter into money . . .  Patrick Mtandwa shows off his litter business
Turning litter into money . . . Patrick Mtandwa shows off his litter business

The life of Chitungwiza garbage collector, Patrick Mtandwa, reads like a fiction novel; from being a ‘‘nobody’’ in the dusty streets of the dormitory town, he now nestles comfortably in the confines of a highly organised litter collection business which employed nine people at its peak.

He is now the proud owner of Smart Disposegate (Pvt) Ltd which was registered in 2013.

This game-changing story of a man mostly known for collecting empty beer bottles, disposable flavoured non-beverage and alcoholic bottles has taught many people in Chitungwiza that money can be earned out of anything, litter included.

Mr Mtandwa said Zim-Asset (the nation’s economic blueprint through 2018) is all about full utilisation of available resources.

He explains the tough road he is still traversing in making sure that the lucrative litter collection business is appreciated across the whole country.

“People took me for an insane person. I had to endure hours of abuse from individuals who inquired on how I intended to benefit from the plastic bottles and empty beer bottles I collected for a living,” he said as he gets down to sorting out his treasure for further processing.

“Many could be forgiven for assuming that I was mentally challenged.”

He said initially, he only got a few dollars for all the plastics and bottles he collected for a whole month as local established companies in the recycling business would not do business with him.

“First, because of the unprofessional manner in which our plastic bottles and empties were collected and secondly due to the purported health hazard that our stuff was collected under.”

He said the collection process posed a danger to his health while the income accumulated was way below the operational costs.

“l also lacked a business and entrepreneurial approach in my waste collection scheme,” he said.

After realising that the unprofessional approach was putting a dent on his earnings, he then started separating litter. This enhanced efficiency.

“Bigger companies, such as the biggest beverage manufacturing company, have come forward to partner me in making sure that the environment remains clean, while the litter is put back to good use through recycling,” he said proudly.

Mr Mtandwa has now established a thriving export market for disposable beer bottles, cans and poly ethylene terephthalate (PETs).

He, however, said processing litter before export was expensive.

He encouraged other stakeholders to chip in so as to make the whole initiative sustainable.

“Litter processors are very expensive to purchase individually.

“Some bigger players in the beverages industry have come forward to support us in our endeavours, more should do so,” he said.

He also bemoaned the fact that local council authorities are failing to provide him with enough space for his business premises.

Sadly due to the non-availability of an operating place, he says he has failed to expand his business as desired.

“We want the business to grow, but the attitude being shown by the council is letting us down,” he said.

Environmental Management Agency spokesperson Mr Steady Kangata said such efforts should be supported by all stakeholders.

He said the initiative plays a dual effort, that of maintaining a clean and healthy environment and ensuring the sustainability of natural resources through recycling.

“Manufacturers and retailers in the beverages industry should support efforts from such entrepreneurs as they play a vital role in the whole chain,” he said.

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