From time to time news fillers arise about small business developments using recycled rubber materials to make craft goods such as plant pots, sandals, or bags. To many in the recycling sector, these are curiosities offering no real business opportunities.
However, South African entrepreneur Reabetswe Ngwane has developed a more business-like approach to recycling. Initially starting out making schoolbags from plastic waste, Ngwane learned some of the basics of marketing her recycled products. When the business partnership that produced the bags dissolved, Ngwane looked for something with better prospects.
Doing some back to basics research amongst street collectors in South Africa’s North West province, she realised that there were a lot of rubber inner tubes going to waste. It wasn’t long before Ngwane was making bags from inner tubes,
The tubes would be collected from local mines, washed and prepared, cut to patterns and new fashionable bags created. This is where many of these entry-level recycling craft businesses end, but Ngwane had other ideas and by talking to miners and mine operators she discovered the potential for new markets for recycled products and whilst the fashion bags are a premium product in her range, she now supplies mines and miners with a range of products that enhance safety in the mines.
There were three particular items where canvas was the normal material used, and canvas , though hard wearing, was susceptible to damage and rot in the conditions in the mines.
Ngwane developed rubber bags made from inner tubes as cases for first aid kits used in the mines, and in bags for masks; protecting the contents from the humidity in the mines.
In the confined spaces of the mines wear and tear on worker’s trouser and anatomy is high as they scrabble on the ground and against the walls of the tunnels. Ngwane developed a “reverse” apron, a mat strapped around the waist and thighs to protect the rear of miners.
Today, what started as a craft business selling plastic schoolbags has developed into a medium sized enterprise with a multiple range of products, from utility to fashion. The company, KreamFields, has now been in operation for the last two years, and its future looks promising.