Buhle Waste is a second-generation family business that is 100% black-owned and -managed. The company strives to achieve excellence in all of its business activities in the communities in which it operates. Buhle Waste strives to be an embodiment of ubuntu, knowing that it takes a community to help raise a business.

Our business has been raised on the belief that our homes and cities must be beautiful spaces; a love for our people and work should be fostered; and a respect for our environment needs to be maintained. We strive for beauty, love and respect in all that we do,” says Dr Phetole David Sekete, founder and CEO of Buhle Waste.

In 1997, family man and medical practitioner Sekete recognised that the township in which he was living was plagued by poor service delivery; waste was piling up in the sewerage system and rubbish heaps were strewn along the streets – and these areas had become the playgrounds of children. Sekete’s medical practice was full of patients who were suffering from ailments caused by this mismanaged waste. Dedicated to preventative healthcare, Sekete committed himself to bringing efficient waste management to the townships around South Africa.

Humble beginnings

Buhle Waste began in the dusty streets of Katlehong with a single truck and seven staff members, managing the waste of the local communities in an effort to bring a sense of beauty and pride to their environment. Over the years, the company has gained experience through the trials of business hardships and successes; it now operates nationally with over 350 staff and a fleet of over 70 trucks, with offices, warehouses and/or treatment plants in the Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

“Our dedication to our community and our respect for our environment have continued to form the foundation of our business operations to this day. Infused in our foundation of operations is the perseverance, resilience and dedication to achieve success for our clients,” notes Sekete.

“When we first began operations in 1997, it was a tense time for black businesses, which had very little access to capital because of the conservative financing mentality of the banks. In addition to that, the pressures from the larger, white-owned corporations within the industry, who were resolved to minimise any new entrants into the business, were taking their toll on our business operations and ability to expand in scale and scope,” he explains.

Sekete believes that without government interventions, namely BBBEE, the waste industry may not have changed much by today and the sector would have remained in the hands of very few companies who controlled the market share of the industry.

“Today, we find a relatively fragmented industry with lower barriers to entry, overall – there is greater economic inclusion, leading to a spurring in the economy. In addition, the flood of new entrants into the market contributes to a more competitive environment – this has been beneficial to the companies, individuals and entities that rely on our services,” he continues.

An evolving operation

As a business, Buhle Waste has continued to evolve and adapt to the changing circumstances; like the environment it serves, the company has taken on its most resilient characteristics – innovation forms a pillar of the business and its continued growth and success.

The company has continued to invest in technologies that will assist it in achieving its zero-waste-to-landfill goals while simultaneously differentiating its value proposition in the market. In its early years, the company was heavily dependent on other, larger waste management companies that were involved in the treatment and disposal of waste. Today, Buhle is one of the largest waste treatment companies in the country.

“To achieve our zero-waste-to-landfill vision and minimise our environmental impact, we have invested in green technology that has no emissions and reduces waste from treatment. As such, we invested in a steam treatment injection (STI) technology that utilises a steam injection chamber, as opposed to incineration, for treating medical and hazardous waste at high temperatures to sterilise and shred the waste, rendering it non-hazardous and safe to handle.”

The STI is based in Gauteng, making Buhle Waste the first waste management company to have an incinerator and non-burn technology on the same premises. The company’s capacity to treat waste is greatly increased, while its transportation impact is reduced.

Committing to technology

“Our commitment to environmentally sustainable technology and ensuring that its benefits are seen throughout the country is further highlighted in our investment in a treatment technology in Seshego, Limpopo – our flagship treatment site,” Sekete notes.

The Converter is a revolutionary technology that, in using friction from rotating shredder blades in a sealed chamber, generates heat to sterilise and destroy hazardous waste, rendering it non-hazardous. The machine reduces the original input by about 70% in volume and 60% in weight.

The waste by-product retains a calorific value that is greater than that of coal, allowing us to explore ways in which this by-product can be used to generate energy – it converts waste into a refuse-derived fuel that presents a wealth of opportunities on a continent that is energy starved. This technology is an essential component in Buhle Waste’s mission to achieve zero-waste-to-landfill by 2025.

“We manage general, industrial, hazardous, chemical, sanitation and medical waste. Our management of multiple waste streams allows us to be an ideal partner to businesses in managing their waste on-site – our clients leave the waste for us to handle while they go about their business of serving their own clients. We feel this is a partnership that ensures our clients’ success because they are not overly encumbered by the burdens of their waste,” he explains.

Investing in future leaders

“It is our mission to achieve our goals through the investment in technology and our people. It is imperative that we, as a collective within our communities, collate our resources and intellect to achieve the great positive impacts of beautifying our communities and ensuring environmental sustainability,” Sekete adds.

“It is with this in mind that we provide scholarships to students who wish to study towards achieving environmental and community sustainability and excellence. We have further introduced a graduate recruitment programme to engage our youth in economic participation and encourage future leaders to remain cognisant of their contribution to environmental sustainability. We need the help of the people if we are to achieve our zero-waste-to-landfill objectives.

“We need the pillars of our business to operate in a synergistic fashion if we are to continue to hold true to our values of beauty, love and respect,” he concludes.