Primary school learners in the small town of Colchester, 40km north of Port Elizabeth, have begun recycling plastic bottles and tin cans. The waste materials are exchanged for school stationery, clothing and food.
The recycling programme is run by the Colchester Recycling Swop Shop – an NPO that operates from two shipping containers at Colchester UCC Primary School. The initiative has been running since August 2015.
How the recycling programme works
“We come here on the last Friday of every month,” says programme coordinator Sue Lake. “The children bring used, empty plastic bottles and tins. They are weighed and they receive a ticket with points according to the weight,” she explains.
The learners are then allowed to choose items from the swop shop according to the value of their points. “We rely on donations from individuals and the Sunshine Coast Charity Trust [who] kindly donate non-perishable foods,” says Lake.
“We stock food, donated clothes, toys, toiletries, stationery and books that we give to the children. Food is the most sought after, as there are many impoverished people in the area and unemployment is very high,” she explains.
The learners play their part
“This is helping my family very much because my parents do not work,” says Thamara Gqogqani, a grade seven learner at the primary school. “I move around collecting empty plastic bottles because I know that at the end of the month I get groceries and school stationery from the shop,” she says.
According to Lake, the recycling programme teaches the learners about the environment and their ability to make a difference, even at a young age. The children are proud of their efforts and get a sense of achievement when they swop their recycling for useful goods.
Colchester resident Wendy Ndabula says; “This is not only helping us in terms of cleaning the environment but our children are growing up with a sense of responsibility. They always teach us at home that it is not good to throw away litter everywhere as there is money in empty plastic bottles.”
Recycling is a community effort
Thamsaqa Maseti, a Colchester resident, assists at the swop shop by packing the plastic bottles and tins. He also oversees the order in the queues, making sure that the children stand patiently. “The money is helping my family buy other necessities like electricity coupons and for transport money when I want to travel,” he says.
Lake estimates that between 80 and 150 children take part in the initiative. “I think it’s important to give the kids a ‘hand up’ rather than handouts,” she says. “The children have had several talks about recycling and it is hoped that they will have a positive influence in the community,” says Lake.
The swop shop also runs regular clean-up days whereby the children are encouraged to pick up litter and non-recyclable waste in the area. Colchester is one of the poorer towns in the Nelson Mandela Bay area and is situated directly on the N2. The main employers are a SPAR supermarket and a couple of B&Bs.
Image credit: Joseph Chirume
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