A dream deferred is another dream fulfilled, says Anele Sololo, who, growing up, perhaps did not picture herself at the forefront of South Africa’s paper recycling effort, but who is now relishing every environment-conscious minute.
WITH fewer than a tenth of businesses recycling used paper, Anele has more than ‘enough’ to keep her occupied.
Business in South Africa is difficult at the best of times, but the recent severe drought in fruit-growing regions knocked corrugators for a loop and forced mills to maintain viability amid dwindling demand. Then Covid-19 blew in on an ill wind to derail the work of 90 000-odd informal operators, as waste collectors hibernated with the rest of the country.
But RecyclePaperZA perseveres, its aim to make recycling the default thought setting in every South African brain.
Anele is currently working with the government to create a recycling guide and integrate hundreds of waste collectors into the value chain, and with producer responsibility organisation, Fibre Circle, to promote liquid board packaging recyclability and grow that entity’s membership to include producers and importers of paper and paper packaging, brand owners and retailers.
Although South Africa recycled about 71% of paper and paper packaging in 2018 – 1.285 tons – and uses up to 90% of recovered paper in new paper, packaging and tissue, things could improve. Learning and education are strong links in Anele’s DNA chain and she believes they are integral to maintaining awareness of waste and boosting recycling.
‘My greatest joy is imparting knowledge,’ she explains. ‘Nothing is more rewarding than seeing people transform their lives and ramp up their businesses through knowledge. It’s priceless.’
Inspiring people so they can inspire others is what it is all about, she adds. ‘Being born disadvantaged doesn’t mean you need to exist there forever.’
Previously, Anele – who studied mechanical engineering at Tuks – developed learning materials for mill employees and tutored those enrolled for a Unisa paper and pulp qualification. She has also authored and coauthored college engineering textbooks.
An exciting element in her education drive is the partnership with the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority to roll out a new paper and pulp qualification, which aims to stimulate interest in recycling as a career.
Anele’s career was a natural gravitation, she says, with many companies for which she developed training materials now the RecyclePaperZA members she serves. Plus employing the students she tutored to work with the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa.
Now overseeing RecyclePaperZA’s daily operations, while coordinating entrepreneurship courses and schools visits, she also chairs the National Recycling Forum.
Hers is a strong team, partly due to her conviction that people’s value lies not in yield alone. ‘As a manager, understanding what makes people tick and who they are is essential,’ she elaborates. ‘We are all going through something and a toxic workplace is a no-no.’
She is thankful for her conflict resolution skills, which, Anele maintains, have helped her keep afloat on the choppy waters of a world in which women are often deemed incapable until they outperform those around them. ‘I had to find my voice early in my career,’ she adds. ‘It’s important to know what you’re doing, but equally important that you make your voice heard, while your credentials do the explaining.’
The future is not what it used to be, as the world now knows only too well, but 2020 has taught Anele and her team agility, which has included taking the RecyclePaperZA entrepreneurship course online to reach more aspiring collectors.
It’s exciting stuff, but sometimes Anele just likes to tune out and say ‘enough already’. Of work that is. Home can be hectic, as it is where four-year-old Tshego waits expectantly for playtime with mum. The two have the mother/daughter drill down to an active art, with long bike rides, games in the park and – to the delight of both – workouts on the new Sololo high-tech gym equipment, aka trampoline. When Tshego has spent her last ounce of energy, Anele turns to Mohale Mashigo, Esinako Ndabeni, Sihle Mthembu and a host of other upcoming female authors with relatable stories told in poetic prose.
Aneles, say the pundits, need several outlets for their energies. This one, clearly, is way ahead of that curve.