FINDING herself as a single mother, with four children to care of, at a time the Zimbabwean economy was in doldrums spurred Mary Wazara (47), commonly known as the ‘Recycling Lady’ on social media platforms and business circles, to be innovative and think outside the box in her quest to ensure that her family does not lack.
This led to her venturing into waste management as a profession, after establishing a company which collects and separates waste while also recycling waste to make plastic bottles and bin liners.
“To me, the waste management initiative was all about business since I needed money for the family. After the divorce from my husband, I knew that I had to do something so that I can provide for my four children,” says Wazara, who founded a company called “The Recycling Lady (Pvt) Ltd”.
The company was established in 2008, during the peak of the hyper-inflationary era in Zimbabwe, which eventually forced government to abandon the Zimbabwean dollar for a multi-currency system. At the time, Zimbabwe was also facing an environmental disaster, especially in urban areas where illegal dump sites mushroomed both in residential areas and Central Business Districts, particularly in Harare.
“I asked myself, how I could make money for the family out of the environmental crisis that we were facing in Harare, while contributing towards cleaning the city. I then decided to venture into the waste management business, where I engaged waste collectors who would sell their waste to me and I would sort it and sell to other companies and make a profit in the process,” said Wazara.
Waste Management has emerged as one of the greatest challenges facing Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe with the volume of waste being generated continuing to increase at a faster rate than the City of Harare’s ability to collect it due to a plethora of challenges including lack of refuse trucks. Wazara believes the sky is the limit in the waste management business.
“I designed a model which I believed would be used as a guideline of how I would achieve my goal. First, I invested in education and awareness. During this phase I would go around communities teaching them about waste management and how we can protect the environment. In the second phase I trained waste pickers and I have lost track of the number of people that I have trained in this area. In the third phase, I
focused on identifying waste collection centres where we could aggregate and separate the type of waste accordingly. And finally, in the last phase, we process our waste into finished products so that people can appreciate the product and purchase it,” she said.
Wazara says she gained knowledge about waste management through engaging different stakeholders like the community, extension officers, the City of Harare officials and Environmental Management Agency (EMA) officials.
EMA has the mandate to regulate, control, and regulate the disposal of waste or effluent which may affect the quality of the environment among other things. EMA’s Environmental Education and Publicity manager, Amkela Sidange told She Corresponds Africa that the contribution of the Recycling Lady to the environment is very commendable.
“Mary Wazara has managed to set the tone by giving the correct narrative on recycling especially looking at the segregation of waste from its source,” Sidange said.
“She has been one person who has been running around wherever the issues of green and black bags are concerned making sure that waste segregation is done appropriately,” she added.
“At some point, she would run around with a self-explanatory pamphlet that provides information about her vision in the waste management business in the streets, in communities, and companies for the sake of engaging different stakeholders towards waste management, so I believe she championed the recycling rights at a community level and ensured that the communities adopt the best culture of
promoting a clean environment. She exhibited that recycling is a business as much as it is an environmental conservation and protection act. As EMA, we appreciate the work that she has been doing.”
Wazara has also taken advantage of waste recycling to raise funds for disadvantaged children in her community, working through organisations like The Michael Projects.
The coordinator for The Michael Projects, Simbaneuta Pfupajena said he knew Wazara since 2019 during one of their church’s charity fundraising orientation processes.
“Through her church, River of Life’s charity initiative under the banner – ‘The Michael Project,’ whose primary mandate is to advocate for and facilitate family-based interventions for children in need of care, Wazara managed to establish an income- generating recycling centre in Greystone Park. This has resulted in a transformation for us, in terms of financial generating programs for the children’s welfare,” said
“Our mandate as The Michael Project is to find ways to raise money for the children. We have three children’s day care centres in Zimbabwe including the children’s centre at Chirukubi Maximum Prison, a children’s home which we established to avoid children being institutionalised unnecessarily.
“Since 2020, Wazara was proposing the possibility of starting a recycling station for fundraising money for the children. At the time, we did not have the capacity and knowledge about it, so we declined it several times. We did not appreciate what she was suggesting although she kept reminding and trying to convincing us to consider her idea.”
“After the Covid-19 pandemic which had put everything on hold, Wazara as persistent as she can be, came back again with the same idea but this time it was different because she spearheaded the project in terms of financing the project from scratch. “She donated the green plastics and the start-up kit for the waste management centre in River of Life Centre in Greystone Park and as The Michael Project, we just
started at the income-generating stage without any costs involved.” In addition, Mary encouraged the community to bring their waste to the centre; trained community members and members of the church.
She also looked for the clients and negotiated for better payments. “Getting involved with the Recycling Lady made us feel that at least at The Michael Project, we are now doing something that contributes towards the well-being of the environment,” Pfupajena said.
A worker who joined the Recycling Lady (Pvt) Ltd last year, Tafadzwa Uswahwengavi (31) said she never knew that she could make money out of the waste before she met Wazara.
“I didn’t know that mumarara mune mari (there is money in waste management) and as a single mother the Recycling Lady’s initiative has changed my life for the better,” said Uswahwengavi. The young lady is working in the waste segregation department where she focuses on sorting out waste from plastics, metal, and paper.