What started out as the part-time collection of recyclable domestic waste using borrowed bakkies, has grown into a solution-driven domestic waste collection business that has its sights set on becoming a national operation.
The two became friends in their third year at UWC when their BCom studies focused more on Information Systems (IS), their area of specialisation. The IS department was hugely influential, not only in terms of them benefitting from the expertise and industry knowledge of lecturers such as Roscoe Adams and Dr Njenga, but their observation of the department taught them a lot about organising enterprises efficiently.
“I think the IS department helped us to see how a tight ship operates,” says Miti, who has lectured part-time at the department.
After graduating, they immediately undertook BCom honours at UWC in 2014. It was during that year that Robertson conceived the idea of starting a business supplying 3D-printed objects custom-made from waste plastic. Miti seemed the natural choice for a partner.
After investing their own money in machinery and materials and months of experimenting and tinkering, they realised that the idea of developing 3D applications from waste plastic wasn’t viable. But there were opportunities in the waste recycling industry, given that South Africa has a low level of recycling non-commercial waste.
Although Miti found some of the research he was doing towards his MCom in Information Management Studies useful (his research focus was on building maturity models for micro enterprises), they knew nothing about the industry. So, in 2016, they decided to literally get their hands dirty, collecting recyclable domestic waste themselves using borrowed bakkies and selling the sorted waste to recycling depots to learn how things worked.
An estimated 90 000 informal collectors each annually collect as much as 24 tons of domestic waste for recycling in South Africa, but they do so inefficiently, sorting through refuse at the kerbside and transporting small loads in purloined shopping trolleys. These collectors expend a high level of muscle energy and time for very little return, receive no cooperation or assistance from homeowners and are often met with hostility or suspicion by residents and road users.
Furthermore, the primary loci of activity are recycling depots and the landfill sites, where municipal waste is separated and sorted by ‘pickers’. In other words, because the recycling industry is unable to efficiently access the waste at source, it focuses on accessing waste at the end of its journey.
Reasoning that people want to recycle and that it would be less costly to the society if waste entered the recycling process nearer to the source, the pair began applying systems thinking to domestic waste collection.
After participating in the MTN venture incubation programme, the entrepreneurs emerged with a business model that provides solutions to each problem identified in the recycling value chain.
First, they provide each participating collector with a highly visible, cycle-powered cart. The vehicle is safe, stable, energy efficient and carries a bigger, more profitable load than the ubiquitous trolley.
Next, to incentivise homeowners to separate recyclables from the waste destined for the municipal bin and donate them directly to the collectors, the pair invented ‘Remali’, virtual currency that participating homeowners redeem for airtime and data as their reward for participation. Then they used their IT training to solve the communication problem by devising an app connecting the homeowner to collectors armed with Regenize mobile phones.
With Robertson acting as CEO and Miti as the chief operations officer, Regenize has already won recognition and funding from the SAB Foundation among other accolades, enabling the piloting of the project in Cape Town. The entrepreneurs expect to grow Regenize into a national company following the expansion of operations in the Western Cape.
For more insight on what UWC Alumni are achieving in the world, read the special edition of the 360º Perspectives magazine: http://bit.ly/360Perspectives-7