Meet Susan Kone, one of a few female oil can collectors in South Africa.
Susan owns and runs Limpopo based PWK Waste Management, which she established in 2015 after noticing that empty oil cans were being improperly disposed of. Her concern over the environmental risks and health hazards this poses to the community led to a meeting with the ROSE Foundation and five years later Susan’s business has collected and safely disposed of over 5000 empty oil containers from the forecourts in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Prior to starting PWK Waste Management Susan worked as a civil servant for almost 23 years, with the last years being at Eskom where she was involved with the role out of the energy-saving lightbulbs. “My involvement in sourcing solutions around the safe handling and disposal of the globes contributed to the birth of PWK Waste Management and Recycling.”
“I have realised that the only way to save the environment is through waste management and recycling. Since the inception of the empty oil cans collection, we have noticed the major role that recycling can play in job creation and improving livelihoods while keeping our environment clean and saving it for future generations.”
Susan grew up in a family of 7 girls and says that this is where she learnt to have a strong character and to tackle all tasks and roles without hesitation – something that has put her in good stead in a male-dominated industry sector. “Woman are often undermined and regarded as weak. I am a proud African woman who is willing to learn, to go the extra mile and strive to provide efficient service to my clients while making an impact in the community.”
When asked about the biggest challenges faced in her day to day operations Susan confirms that it is usually a lack of compliance and knowledge about the need to protect the environment. “We are still seeing forecourts disposing of their empty oil cans in the waste refuse bins, and these end up in the landfill site.”
Added to this Susan says it is a tough industry with small, if any, profit margins due to the high cost of transporting the cans for recycling. There are also all the challenges of having the correct protective gear for the team, complying with traffic regulations governing waste transport and keeping her vehicle serviced and in operational condition at all times.
Susan’s advice for other entrepreneurial women is that anything is possible, the arena is open to everyone, and there are many opportunities in the recycling sector – including cleaning oil spills, processing and waste removal and collections. “Entrepreneurship however, is not for “sissy’s” and takes enormous mental, emotional and spiritual strength.”
“My future hopes and plans include seeing more women empowered to enter male-dominated industries and I personally would like to empower and employ youth, the disabled and women in my business. The plan is to continue to grow my footprint, upgrade my facilities and equipment and hopefully apply for SMME training grants to acquire skills to run the business more successfully. I hope to run educational campaigns in my community in the future and to one day own a waste processing plant.