Glimmer of hope for waste traders

The Re-Trade Project in Walmer is a community-based recycling and social empowerment organisation in Port Elizabeth, and traders are back with loads of recyclable goods to exchange at the Re-Trade store
MAKING A DIFFERENCE; The Re-Trade Project in Walmer is a community-based recycling and social empowerment organisation in Port Elizabeth, and traders are back with loads of recyclable goods to exchange at the Re-Trade store
Image: ZIZONKE MAY

“Putting food on the table has been a challenge over the lockdown period, with the first two months the hardest.”

That is the experience of Xolisile Mkontwana, who trades in waste.

He said he had had to go to bed hungry several times after his movement was restricted. 

Mkontwana is one of about 30 traders who work with the Re-Trade Project in Walmer.

They drop goods like cardboard boxes, glass, plastic bottle caps and tins for recycling and in exchange they can “shop” at the Re-Trade store.

The Re-Trade project is a community-based recycling and social empowerment organisation in Port Elizabeth that seeks to assist the unemployed and other needy people by providing traders with access to its bartering programme, recycling skills training and special open days.

Mkontwana said his life had been turned upside down over the past three months.

“I used to go around Walmer collecting discarded cardboard boxes from retailers every day, and then on Friday come to the Re-Trade depot to trade the goods for food, clothes and toiletries.

“Shortly after lockdown started I was evicted from my home because the property was sold and the new owner wanted to use his plot.

“Today [Friday] is my first day back at the depot and I am pleased to be going home with food and warm clothes,” Mkontwana said.

Another trader, Florence Menzi, from Motherwell NU 10, said she had been trading for five years.

Because she was a domestic worker she could not get the R350 government social grant but she did not have a job for the first two months of lockdown, she said.

“I stay with my two grandchildren and being at home all day means that you have to have food in the cupboards at all times.

“I have never had to buy groceries like salt, mealie meal, sugar and fish oil, or even toiletries because I got these from the Re-Trade shop.

“During the lockdown it was very difficult because we now were forced to use everything sparingly, and we had to stretch the little money we had,” she said.

On Friday it was Menzi’s first time back at Re-Trade and she arrived carrying four full bags of recyclable goods.

First time trader Joseph Johannes said he had come across the depot two weeks ago while looking for a job in the area.

“The volunteer called me and explained to me how they work. I found it to be most helpful so I started collecting paper, cardboard boxes and cans that day.

“I am happy to be able to buy food for my family of five. I am very grateful for the team here,” Johannes said.

A volunteer at the centre, Funeka Sobele, 42, said it had been operating since 2013 and opened every Friday from 9am to 11am.

Sobele said while traders had not been able to walk around collecting recyclable goods during the lockdown they had helped those who came to the depot with food parcels.

“We gave them the goods for free during the lockdown period.

“We have also grown as a result because we also gave food parcels to some of the people who usually stand along Buffelsfontein Road,” Sobele said.

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