Plastic bottles turn women’s lives around

Lynn Worsley with some of her upcycled gifts.

There is a factory in Retreat where women from across the peninsula go to change their worlds.

It is also where our environmental world is slowly being changed: last year these women removed and re-used half a million plastic bottles destined for the landfill.

Lynn Worsley, of Marina da Gama, says her life is half environmentally minded and half social upliftment . She runs the project called All Women Recycling.

It is here that 11 women meet and work and learn.

They come from Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain, Woodstock, Philippi Wynberg and beyond. They spend their days creating a range of products from old cooldrink bottles.

Their time together is a celebration of cleaning up: both lives and the environment.

The project is putting Cape Town on the map for producing first-class upcycled products as Lynn’s clientele are mostly off-shore.

But the “local is lekker” angle is starting to catch on, and Kirstenbosch Gardens and Addo Elephant Park are new customers which are introducing the upcycled goods to the South African market.

The work keeps 11 women full time employed and constantly learning new skills.

Cindy Magson, from Mitchell’s Plain, is one of these women. Cindy is the seamstress, which is no mean feat as Ilhaam Samsodien, the operations manager, will tell you.

Ilhaam, of Woodstock, tells an animated story of trying to sew the products which ended in total disaster.

“Cindy makes it look so easy, trust me, it is not,” Ilhaam laughs. “She is super skilled at what she does.”

Cindy is amused, this is a skill she says she learned simply by watching others work. Her interest piqued, she went on to qualify in her field and her love of what she does is evident in the fine work she produces.

Cindy speaks openly about wanting to start her own business, making leather goods. Behind her is a certificate with “Employee of the Month” and her name on it.

Ilhaam points out that the certificate was for two months running.

This talk of her own business is quiet but confident, and Cindy says her job with Lynn has not been just about the task at hand but rather a steep learning curve about all aspects of business.

It was Lynn’s divorce – as the mother of four children – which spurred her to create her own income stream in the first place. And it was sitting in maintenance courts, alongside women in search of similar things, that gave Lynn’s project its legs.

“I was working a job that paid me R5 000 a month, and I knew I had to change that, I had to do better, do more,” she says. “I looked around me and thought every woman here needs this as much as I do. What’s the point of doing just for yourself? So I started putting out feelers and fliers to invite women to work with me.”

Lynn expects ambition from the women who work with her and some selected street collectors who collect a lot of their bottles for them.

“They may start with me thinking it’s just a job. But they very quickly learn that while they do indeed make money, what I most want is for them to learn a set of new skills, to develop, to go on to run their own businesses.

“That’s the way to change communities. Teach the mothers; they will, in turn, teach the communities.

“I’ve only been here in Retreat three months, but I have such a great understanding of the whole system now.

“I used to have photos of the women who work here so I could say to customers, ‘Oh, this is Ntombi’s work.’ But now I know Ntombi and her personal story. I know all the women, and I am watching the items being made. It’s so strange knowing that this item made in this room will end up in Germany.”

Lynn says working in the factory has shown her the environmental impact too: seeing the raw bottles come in one end and the products go out the other end has made her personally appreciate the effort and the outcome.

The women – a mix of cultures – work together mostly harmoniously. “In here we are just women,” Lynn says. “I don’t tolerate cultural differences in a shared workspace where everyone is learning side by side and we all want the same things.”

Lynn’s history lies with theatre, but nothing can hand you a new stage quite like life, she says. Her divorce prompted a personal life change which has tendrils of positive influence growing across many communities.

Her new goal this year is for all the women who work with her to start a savings account and for them to each start planning and researching buying their first homes.

Her innate belief is that everyone can do one thing that changes the world or themselves or the environment for the better.

The project is always in need of 1-litre and 2-litre cooldrink bottles. Visit AllWomenRecycling.com or email: Lynne@AllWomenRecycling.com for more information.