The waste story: From trash to treasure



We live in a world where our most significant story is becoming that of an irrepressibly growing population on a resource scarce planet, and there is an ever-increasing global social consciousness. With this rapid increase in social and environmental consciousness, sustainable business has begun to focus less on offsetting risk, or reducing harmful practices, and more on creating entirely new business models all together.

Re-imagine our future

The need to re-imagine new ways of operating demands that we get comfortable with uncertainty and disruption – a necessary level of open mindedness that is required for innovation to happen, and for the reinvention of broken systems to take place. Today technology makes it possible to test, implement and scale complex new concepts faster than ever before, penetrating industries and giving way to the emergence of new value chains. Consequently, where businesses that previously faced change and disruption would be reactive, today they are seeing the great social challenges that we face as opportunities, shifting the narrative around entire sectors.

In South Africa the waste and waste management landscape is moving from being about ‘landfill dumping’ and ‘recycling’ to that of ‘recovery’ and ‘untapped business opportunity’. According to GreenCape’s 2017 Market Intelligence Report, recycling 13 identified waste streams of material that is currently landfilled could be recycled to the value of R17 billion, more than half of the country’s current R15 billion waste economy. Opportunities identified across the value chain lie in collection, sorting, processing and treatment. GreenCape reports that, in order to unlock these opportunities, it is necessary to provide access to waste, a market for recovered material and a business case for material recovery.

The Green Economy

The Green Economy has become a term associated with an industry or sector that provides an approach to sustainable environmental and economic development. South Africa recognises the significance of the Green Economy introducing policies and investing in its growth. However, without a supportive eco-system for small businesses and entrepreneurs, the green economy cannot grow. Founder of Remarkable Waste Management Solutions, Neliswe Radebe, established her business in 2007 and is growing her waste management offering into the up-cycling of waste into reusable items, including producing new forms of energy. Neliswe describes green economy activities as those that have a positive environmental impact, ensure economic stability and job creation, and educate communities of staff and clients, in order to contribute to a better future. However, she continues to feel the pressure of balancing purpose and profit, as she struggles to access finance, build a client base, collaborate with private and public sector, while operating in an increasingly competitive market.

Collaborative culture

In order to deal with a world of 10 billion people, where we produce, consume and dump more than our planet has capacity for, our future depends on what we can achieve together. Companies can no longer keep new ideas a secret in order to succeed. Instead, they need to tap into a sharing economy, where their openness to sharing ideas and working collaboratively can change behavior, shape new value chains and build new business models.

Progress in the waste sector lies in our capacity for collaboration, and will benefit from us shaping a new narrative – one that moves the story of waste beyond trash and into treasure.

Learn more about how human centered design and innovation can create a meaningful impact for your organisation: contact us at

About the Author

3d20c3dAnne-Marie Hanna is a Design Researcher and Story Facilitator and longtime TOMA-Now collaborator.

She holds a Masters in Philosophy, Specializing in Inclusive Innovation |