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The Waste Trade Company

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure is a truism we all know, although few will have taken it quite so literally as Howard Bulkin did in 1998. That was the year he established The Waste Trade Company in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in an effort to exploit the business opportunities and potential revenue to be found in other people’s rubbish. More than that, Bulkin wanted to use this business to not only benefit himself, but to transform and develop the lives of his employees and the wider community they lived in. That was 14 years ago, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the company today – The Waste Trade Company has every bit of the energy and enthusiasm you’d expect to find in a new start-up. “We’re a progressive young company, with lots of young people working for us,” says Kay Hardy, the company’s General Manager. “It has a real impact on our attitude. As our shirts say, we think outside the box, we’re always looking at R&D and new ideas we can adopt.” The company is service driven, and has built itself a strong reputation thanks to its extensive social responsibility programs, which have attracted interest from several multinational companies. “We’ve started a schools program to educate young people,” Hardy explains. “The thing about Howard Bulkin is that he is a dedicated environmentalist before anything else. He wanted to educate children in schools about environmental issues, which in turn leads to the education of their parents and teachers. So we’ve started a completely separate division of the company which we have taken to 90 schools.” Over the last couple of months the program has expanded to include school groups visiting The Waste Trade


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The Waste Trade Company

Company’s factory. A special presentation area has been set up in the form of a small classroom, where children will be given a presentation about the importance of protecting the environment. From there the kids are given a tour of the factory, teaching them about recycling by showing them exactly what happens to items of rubbish such as a discarded drinks bottle. One of the highlights of the tour is a special mural that begins with the view of a horrible landfill site, goes on to tell the story of how recycling can work, and ends with a picture of a much happier, greener world. It’s not just for the school children though. The Waste Trade Company’s facilities are, if you’ll forgive the pun, littered with examples of the beauty of the natural world and how recycling and sustainability practices can help protect it. “We have aviaries at the main factory and at some of our other sites,” Hardy tells us. “We have an aviary at our Goodyear site and the staff will visit it during their lunch break. It’s a nice relaxing space that’s great for de-stressing. We’ve also got vegetable gardens made from truck tyres, and those vegetables actually feed our staff. They take them home to feed their children, and we’re starting to do this with the schools as well.” The Waste Trade Company has seen a lot of positive recognition for the work that it’s done, from the company itself being a finalist in the Proudly South African Most Green Company of the Year award in 2011, to Kay Hardy herself being a finalist for the Business Women’s Association Corporate Achievement award this year. Some of this recognition is more welcome than others, when asked about

being nominated for the award Hardy modestly says it was “completely embarrassing, not my cup of tea. I like to fly under the radar.” Pulling Together Of course it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The financial crisis of the last few years has hit everyone hard, and while it doesn’t make much sense in the long term, for many people it’s the environmental measures that are the first to be cut from the budget. “The prices of recyclable products are decreasing due to lack of demand while fuel, vehicles and labour are rising in cost. So it’s rising from the bottom while decreasing at the top,” Hardy admits. The Waste Trade Company isn’t taking this lying down. The key to getting through this rough period is, Hardy believes, cooperation. “You’ve got to work smart and think in different ways. We’re making sure we’re meeting the correct margins, and avoiding getting into debt,” Hardy explains. “We have management meetings every single week, including not only our managers but our up-and-coming supervisors and junior managers who can bring to the table their perspective on what the people on the ground are saying. If anyone at any level of the company can think of ways we can reduce costs, we want to listen, because if we all work at it we can all stay employed.” It’s an approach that’s paying off. Since the economic crisis began the company hasn’t had to let any of its staff go,


yet they’re coming up with lots of new ways they can give value added services to customers that will reduce their costs while not costing the business any more. The faith that The Waste Trade Company puts in its staff can be seen from the ground up, with the company making a conscious effort to give its people the best possible opportunities. “We are continuously training people,” Hardy says proudly. “There is a lady who is an operations manager for our whole schools project division. She started off sorting recyclables on the factory floor. We gave her training and experience, sent her to study and get a truck licence and provided her with mentorship and motivation, and she’s now responsible for a whole division of the company. We have other people that have told us that before they came here they didn’t think they were going to get anywhere. They joined at the bottom and are now supervisors and managers, and that’s down to skills transfer that we’re passionate about, sending people to study, not just on courses but at colleges and universities.” A Meeting of Minds The Waste Trade Company is keen to share the lessons it’s learned with the rest of the industry, and talking to Hardy it becomes clear she’s excited about the upcoming WasteCon 2012 conference at the East London International Convention Centre on the 10th of October. Hardy has been on the organising committee for this year’s event, and has been hard at work arranging the event.

The theme of the conference is “Wrestling with Waste” and it’s going to be a fantastic hub for exchanging ideas and solutions. “It lasts for three days. We’ll be having technical tours where we take delegates to businesses and factories around the area where the conference is being held,” Hardy enthuses. “We have 80 people presenting papers. We also have the green industry awards that are presented at a gala dinner. There will be delegates from Volkswagen, General Motors and Mercedes Benz, and we’ll be asking how green your company is and what green initiatives you can take.” So what next for The Waste Trade Company? Hardy is asking much the same question. “Two weekends ago I took twenty managers and supervisors away for a conference in training and strategy about where we see the company going forward. Today we have a feedback session on that conference with the same 20 people, so if you call back tomorrow I’ll be able to tell you!” she laughs. “We believe very much in our company being locally based. We want to expand here in the Eastern Cape, through providing different types of alternative energies and different ways of doing things. We’re working quite closely with two clients on bio-digestives we may be installing on their sites. We’re also looking at water treatment that would work on site for businesses to generate grey water for ablutions and production areas.” In the short time The Waste Trade Company has been in operation it has already achieved so much. We can’t wait to see what they’re going to be doing next.


The Waste Trade Company www.thewastetradecompany.co.za +27 41 486 2204 Written by Chris Farnell

www.littlegatepublishing.com


Waste Trade Company