From trash to cash

Not only is a recycling project good for the environment, it can earn thousands of rands for a school. Erna du Toit started a Liewe Aarde (Dear Earth) project at Jan van Riebeeck Primary School, Cape Town.

The project grew so quickly that it managed to swell the school’s coffers by more than R20 000 last year. Here are some of her practical tips on how to start a similar project at your school:  

Children have a great influence on their parents. If you can motivate the children to support the recycling project, parents are bound to get involved. 

 The challenge of a recycling project is two-fold:

  • You need to motivate people to change their lifestyle, recycle at home and bring things to school. 
  • You need to get contractors to fetch the products for recycling. There are a number of companies you can rely on, which makes recycling a lot easier.


  • Firstly you need the support of the principal. The extent to which he/she supports your efforts can make or break the project.
  • You need to address the learners at a joint meeting to introduce them to the concept. If the learners aren’t motivated they will not persuade their parents to make the necessary changes.  
  • The success of the project is largely dependent on the reward learners can expect if their family takes part in the recycling project. A “civvy” day usually works very well as an incentive. At Jan van Riebeeck Primary we have a book where children’s names are written down by the security guard on duty when they bring material for recycling. These names appear in the school’s weekly newsletter. This system works very well for primary school learners.  
  • The project must be as simple as possible: the place where deposits are made must be convenient and easy to reach. If the project is not sustainable, people will lose interest.
  • The simplest might be to start with glass and paper because there is already a good infrastructure for these materials in a number of cities. The containers are supplied by the companies and they have a contractor who empties them regularly, usually once every two weeks. If you want to recycle other materials like tins, cardboard boxes and plastics you need to supply the containers yourself. Jan van Riebeeck Primary fortunately was able to purchase a number of additional containers through an outreach scheme by the Old Mutual Foundation. It is worth the trouble to ask companies in the vicinity if they would be interested in sponsoring additional containers.   
  • Contact Mondi (011 360 4100) and ask them if they have any igloos for you. Start off with one and see how it goes. The Glass Recycling Company (011 803 8946) supplies containers for glass. Obtain the contact number of the contractor in your area and keep an eye on the container so that you can let them know if thee need to be emptied more regularly. If containers fill up very quickly Mondi is always prepared to supply additional containers.
  • The orange igloos are for paper: newspapers, magazines and any other kinds of paper, thin cardboard like cereal boxes and toilet rolls, egg cartons, etc. No thick cardboard, however. 
  • The dark green containers are for glass and you can deposit any kinds of bottles and glass containers, regardless of colour.  

Advantages for the school

It teaches the children an important lesson about environmental consciousness, and the school can benefit by earning thousands of rands each year without any capital outlay!

Bear in mind: one needs a lot of perseverance for this kind of project. It can take many months to get going. Don’t lose courage if it doesn’t get off the mark as quickly as you expected. It is however very rewarding once it gathers momentum.

- Erna du Toit, co-ordinator of Liewe Aarde, Jan van Riebeeck Primary School’s recycling project, for Health24, June 2011


Any questions about recycling? Post a question to our EnviroHealth Expert

Visit the EnviroHealth Centre


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9937 votes
72% - 25973 votes