This interview got me very excited. Not only did I get to speak with someone who’s working into an area that I’m pretty passionate about (recycling), but their work was also addressing another major South African problem (poverty). The ReTrade Project based in Walmer, Port Elizabeth does an incredible thing. They help create opportunity for those who are struggling to provide for their families by giving them the chance to trade recycled waste items for grocery items!
Maybe that sounds like an obvious idea to some, but I must confess that I’d never thought of it myself. I mean, like most people, I’m aware of the informal recyclers that can be found in most South African cities. We’ve probably all seen people rummaging through our rubbish, or pushing a trolley loaded with cardboard boxes down the road. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I figured these people would be trading in their recycling for cash, but somehow it never occurred to me that there could be organisations out there that act as the link between ordinary people in need and big recycling companies.
It was only after I started speaking with Maria Grewar, director and founder of the ReTrade project, that it all kind of clicked into place in my mind. We spent an eye-opening afternoon talking about how it all started, how long the project has been running and how many people they help on a weekly basis. Throughout our conversation I could see the passion that the ReTrade Project volunteers bring to their work. It was clear that Maria credited teamwork for the organisation’s successes over the years.
They first opened their doors in 2104. Maria had been thinking about ways in which you could assist those community members in need, while at the same time helping to restore their dignity. After much thought, research and planning The ReTrade Project was born. The goal was to not give people handouts, but to help them find a way to become micro-entrepreneurs, to give them a way to earn some of the items that they need. As an added bonus the material they traded in for essential groceries would also benefit the city!
And over the years The ReTrade Project has attracted quite a bit of attention. They’ve been featured on the Expresso Show, by Fair Lady magazine and Maria was nominated as one of Santam’s Women of the Future in 2020. They’re clearly doing something right! During our conversation another great point came up. While many NPOs in South Africa seem to target women and children, ReTrade Project works with a lot of men. These men are now able to find a way to feed their families by doing something meaningful with their time!
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some of the traders when I visited the centre one Friday morning to drop off my own recycling. These men were all quietly busy sorting different recycling items, unpacking everything they were dropping off that morning. They were friendly and helpful, letting us know which items could be recycled and which couldn’t. One of the traders we met that morning had come in with an incredible 18 bags full of recycling! It’s because of people like him that two tonnes of waste per month isn’t ending up in landfill!
I was absolutely thrilled to be granted this interview. As with many of the stories I cover I was introduced to Maria through a friend who listens to the podcast, and who knows about the good work ReTrade Project is doing. However, what I hadn’t realised when I first started discussing an interview with Maria was that I’d already discovered this organisation on Instagram. I’d been searching for a place where I could take my own waste to be recycled and had come across them. Although I’d been following them for a few weeks I hadn’t gotten round to figuring out when I could visit them yet.
I also hadn’t figured out that they provide so much more than just a recycling drop-off point to the people of Nelson Mandela Bay (PE). When I did my research prior to confirming our interview, that’s when it all clicked for me. Personally I had to do a bit more reading, spend a bit more time on their website to begin to get a glimpse into what this organisation means to the city.
For ReTrade Project, as for many others, 2020 was a difficult. Those initial weeks of hard lockdown meant their traders couldn’t get to them. They were also unable to visit their regulars. As soon as they were able to though they got going again, putting together essential food parcels and delivering it to their traders. They managed to weather that storm quite well. But as I write this they’re facing another challenge. This month The ReTrade Project was shut down. As they always comply with the municipality’s directives they had to stop trading for the moment, so 2021 hasn’t been off to the kindest start for this hard-working group of people.
However, they’re currently in the process of applying for special consent that would allow them to open their doors and serve their community once again. I, for one, fully support them and their amazing work, and I can’t wait to see their updates letting us know that we can visit again.
For more information please follow them on Instagram (@theretradeproject), find them on Facebook, or visit their website. Re-Trade accepts tins, paper, magazines, newspapers and no.1 plastic bottles (e.g. Coke or water bottles), and they’re normally open for drop-offs every Friday morning between 09:00 and 11:00.