Dressed in comfortable clothes, gloves, safety goggles and a pair of safety shoes, a woman rummages through rubbish bins lining Cape Town’s streets.
Lizl Naude, a former personal assistant and events coordinator who used to work in corporate companies, now looks for treasure in the form of discarded wood, tin cans, broken lamps, old furniture, wine corks and bottles.
With upcycling now an international trend, Naude transforms rubbish she finds into marketable furniture, clocks and lamps which she presents at tourist shops in Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Cape Town.
For this, she scours rubbish bins, dumps and construction sites, industrial kitchens and waste management companies. The only thing she does not collect is wet rubbish and paper.
Naude is one of 29 833 people in South Africa who now earn a living in the country’s waste economy, according to the Waste Economy 2017 Market Intelligence Report released by GreenCape last year. The country’s waste economy is estimated to be worth R15 billion in revenue.
Instead of becoming one of the country’s 5.88 million unemployed individuals, Naude, who is originally from Paarl in the Western Cape, chose to turn her adversity into creativity.
In 2004, she started her company called Lilly Loompa and since then has run different businesses under that label, including jewellery-making and interior decorating. In 2016, Lilly Loompa Eco Products was formally launched with an online auction under the slogan “Waste. Reimagined.”
“I am always on the lookout for materials. I cannot pinpoint a specific day that I started rummaging through other people’s discarded junk. It was an organic process that happened over time,” she says.
“I can recall a few weird looks by passers-by as I lurked in dumpsters to find my treasures. I’m sure they wondered what a well-dressed woman was doing there, but I couldn’t ignore the wonderful, useable items that begged to be found.
“There were times when unpleasant smells and textures would put me off, but my curiosity got the better of me and I continued.”
The wife and mother of two daughters ventured into the recycling business a few years ago when her household suffered a number of financial setbacks.
“In fact, over the past 10 years, we have lost everything four times. Which meant we had to start over four times,” she said.
“The first setback was when we made an unwise financial investment. We were about 28 years old. At 29, all our properties and cars were repossessed, and we lost our construction business.
“After that, a series of events happened that meant years of hustling and trying to make ends meet. Time after time our faith was tested. We had to learn how to live with minimum resources. In fact, we did not have a stable income for more than 12 years.”
Naude says she and her husband were blacklisted and struggled to find permanent jobs and her business was “born out of lack and desperation”.
She had no money in her bank account at the time.
“As if that was not enough, our house was burgled several times and we were left with an empty shell. I needed to build furniture on a budget and I started looking at my surroundings for solutions.
“I quickly discovered that many people discard usable materials, so I used that to build my first few pieces,” she recalls.
But she found opportunity in her circumstances.
“Thinking back, these experiences, as painful as they were, trained me to think in a certain way. They ingrained in me one of my life values, which is use what you have.
“Through all of this, we finally realised that our life’s purpose is about restoration. My business speaks of that as I take waste and restore it into new, usable products.