“Young people have a critical role to play in the waste management sector. Not only do they bring a different perspective to waste management, they have a heightened sense of awareness about environmental issues,” says Patricia Schröder, CEO of producer responsibility organisation, Circular Energy.

by Tia

“While older generations have largely been focused on acquiring and owning goods, there is a significant trend amongst today’s youth to pursue a simpler way of life. Many of them see product as a service – they share products and resources, or use public transport instead of owning a car,” she adds.

Schröder says this shift is necessary in a world that is fighting a monumental battle to contain its waste. “Now, more than ever, we need a new approach to waste management. We can no longer be a throw-away generation and forget about our waste. And this is where young people are leading the charge. They are the generation of change.”

As a producer responsibility organisation, Circular Energy is mandated to focus on small business development, as well as training and skills development initiatives, with particular emphasis on women, youth and people living with disabilities. 

“With this in mind, Circular Energy has assisted with funding for various training and skills development partners to develop and upskill these three demographics in the waste management space.”

Honing in on the youth, one of Circular Energy’s skills development initiatives involves partnering with organisations that conduct programmes aimed at teaching young people how to repair or refurbish appliances and electronic goods that have been returned by consumers – either because they no longer work or they have been replaced.

Schröder says the products are assessed by one of Circular Energy’s waste service partners and the viable products delivered to skills development partners, such as Taking Care of Business (TCB), where aspiring entrepreneurs are then taught how to repair them.

“In the same workshops, they receive training on money management and how to run a small business, allowing them to start their own repair shops and service their local communities. This programme is aimed at helping unemployed people escape the poverty cycle via circular economy initiatives.”

These programmes usually run for 12 months, with Circular Energy facilitating the provision of waste stock and providing funding for about 10 young people to undergo skills development training every year.

In addition, Circular Energy funds other organisations such as Circular Solar in collaboration with Reclite SA, a recovery, collection, transportation, recycling, treatment and beneficiation of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) organisation that provides training for young people on how to install solar PV systems properly and to required standards.

Young people can also get involved in waste management by becoming collectors for Circular Energy. “This is aimed at entrepreneurs who want to start a collection service to collect waste from various locations around the country and deliver it to a processing facility – one of our waste management partners – where it gets recycled or assessed for re-use,” adds Schröder.

She says there are also opportunities for young people to get involved on the treatment side of waste management. “They can either join an established company or, if they have a passion for waste treatment, start their own small businesses, although there may be limitations to what they can do.”

This is because waste treatment often requires that products are treated using various technologies. This is the highly technical side of waste management, which can only be conducted by people with some form of tertiary degree.

Schröder says there is, however, space for entry level operators to conduct some form of the sorting and dismantling of products within a limited framework. “Dismantling a laptop, for example, requires a specific set of skills, which can be acquired through our partner organisations.”

Published for public comment on 19 June, the National Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) norms and standards outline standards for new or informal operators to comply with, providing them with the credibility required to be legitimate dismantlers of electrical and electronic goods.

Schröder says this does not include highly hazardous or toxic products, which need to be dismantled by licensed facilities. “The WEEE norms and standards identify what products can be dismantled, allowing smaller operators to make a legitimate living out of the process. They also reduce the barriers to entry for smaller players in a heavily regulated sector.

“In addition to the money operators make from selling recovered parts, we (Circular Energy) will pay them for reporting their verifiable waste management statistics to us. This initiative is aimed at providing opportunities for young operators while ensuring they do contribute to reducing environmental damage or health risks within their communities.”

Circular Energy will also join hands with other producer responsibility organisations to develop in-house training material. “Instead of working in silos, PROs are collaborating to ensure standardised training material for the sector that is Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA)-accredited.

“Whichever way you look at it, we need young people in waste management. We need their energy, the unique thinking and the values they bring to the sector. They will take us into a future without waste,” concludes Schröder.

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