Motherwell Community and Enviro Hub

A low wall, four containers and a metal gate. This unassuming facility on a barren municipal erf has big ambitions to be a community recycling and environmental hub of Motherwell in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, South Africa. Currently, the Motherwell Buy-Back Centre (MBBC) has, at its core, three enterprising women who, since 1999, have been recycling and upcycling waste. Although resources have always been tight, the creativity and resilience of these women is boundless.

The MBBC has focused on upcycling non-recyclable items such as plastic bags, video cassette tape ribbon, and bottle tops into colourful and innovative craft items. They collect recycling from local collectors in Motherwell, as well as the community of Bluewater Bay. The Zwartkops Conservancy, a long-time supporter of the co-operative, assists in collecting and transporting recycling from the suburb of Bluewater Bay to the centre.

The centre faces many challenges. The site has no services, no water, no electricity and experiences vandalism and theft.

In 2020, the Zwartkops Conservancy introduced CEN Integrated Environmental Management (CEN IEM Unit) to the operators at the MBBC, as well as other community-driven initiatives in Motherwell. These included educators from an Enviro-Education Club, the Hlumani Nande Environmental Ambassadors Group, and local food gardeners. The operators discussed their successes and challenges, as well as the needs and dreams of the community. This was used to compile a proposal for funding, that included an integrated ‘hub’ where existing operations could be upgraded and expanded to enhance the positive work already been done over the years. The project was successful in accessing funding from the Basel and Stockholm Convention to initiate an upgrade of the site.

The plans for the upgrade are ambitious and position the centre as the ‘Motherwell Community and Enviro Hub,’  which includes:

  • The use of eco-design principles in the upgrade, especially focusing on testing the feasibility of using waste as a building material
  • The inclusion of much needed services to the site
  • Upgrading the existing recycling centre to meet the norms and standards under the Waste Act, and increase waste collection and processing
  • A crafting and sales outlet
  • A facility for the environmental education club, where workshops, training, and shows can be held
  • Food gardens and a composting facility

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Image: Architectural drawing for the planned Motherwell Centre and Enviro Hub.


The intention is that the facility will be a demonstration centre on what can be done with waste, which will attract visitors and tourists, and at the same time, encourage learning and awareness within Motherwell and NMBM.

CEN IEM Unit are project managing the upgrade. They are tasked with ensuring that the multi-disciplinary team and the beneficiaries work together to design and implement a facility that satisfies the needs of the beneficiaries as well as the wider Motherwell community. CEN IEM unit will manage the upgrade, public facilitation and environmental management aspects.

RBL Architects are assisting with site development planning, and Therese Boulle is a specialist social facilitator on the project. The project is currently at the planning stage and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Sustainable Seas Trust has come on board to assist the project in the field of research, social media coverage, and documenting the project through film. The Motherwell Community and Enviro Hub project aligns to SST’s goals of reducing plastics to the seas of Africa through supporting and incentivising small business development in the waste sector. SST will be assisting in research on litter loads in Motherwell before and after the intervention to determine impacts. A community waste perception study is also planned to test if the project is successful in generating broad awareness on the impact of waste.

For more specifics on the project, visit CEN’s webpage and follow SST’s social media for more updates and information on how you can help.

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