Scene 5: Buy Backs Centres and Expansion

Scene 5: Ivonne’s Buyback Centre


Among the pickers, there are some that stand out above the others both in terms of motivation and inspiration. Ivonne runs her own buy back centre in Klipfontein where she is able to collect her own recyclables that pickers will bring in either daily or weekly. She is an example of the ideal employees that Blue Sky would like to have in their workforce, for she is self-motivated and are willing to work incredibly hard to provide for herself and her family.

Cast of Characters: Gershwin, John, Ivette, Denver, Gladys

Ivonne hires two women to work as sorters for three months and then hires two new ones, making sure that she creates a fair rotation within the community. Her son Denver acts as her partner and his wife Gladys steps in as a sorter when they have a surplus of recyclables.



Gershwin drove our team to Ivonne’s buyback centre as John followed behind us in his truck. As we went through the different towns, Gershwin pointed out a tire business that he would like to work with in order to implement the recycling of old tires and a school that had been the victim of flooding for every winter for the past few years. As we pulled up to Ivonne’s, we heard the collective barking of multiple dogs before we saw anything else. The area in front of the buyback centre was dirt and had a few vehicles propped up on blocks. Recyclables were piled up everywhere; strewn almost to the road, plastic adorned the dirt like confetti after a burst piñata, and bags full to bursting with differently sorted plastics were strewn under a roofed structure. Gershwin made playful verbal jabs at Ivonne and she responded with hearty laughter.




Gershwin and John introduced us to Ivonne and her workers and we were given a tour of her premises. She was welcoming and informative about their businesses. Ivonne’s buyback centre does not supplement Blue Sky’s material collection but they are looking to potentially partner with them in the future.


  • What are the security concerns and preventative measures in place?
  • How is the float managed?
  • On average, how many people visit the buyback centre daily?
  • How many workers are employed?
  • Are their recyclables picked up or do the employees drive to resell them?
  • How feasible would it be/is it for the buyback centres to work with Blue Sky?
  • What training would be necessary for someone to manage a buyback centre?

Action and Observation:

Ivonne was out front observing two women sorting recyclables under a covered structure. As we arrived, she introduced us to her partner and son, Denver, his wife Gladys, and their little girl. With gestures, she explained the layout of her buyback centre. Pickers will bring their recyclables to her, they will be combined into larger bags, weighed on a spring scale, and then the picker is paid. Ivonne stated that she only dealt with scrap metals and plastics. Cardboard and paper, if they become moist, will become messy and ruin any monetary value of the recyclables. The reason glass is not collected by this particular buyback centre is due to the enormous load on their truck that would cause too many breakdowns. Gershwin brought up the potential of beginning to implement the glass portion and how Blue Sky could bring them a skip and pick it up. This would increase monetary flow for both Ivonne and Blue Sky if this partnership could be created. In the midst of this conversation, a team of a man and wife crossed the front yard as they lugged a wheelie cart piled high with recyclables and had slung more bags across their bodies. The two women employees left their sorting area to attend to these pickers; unloading their bags into two bigger ones and weighing the two. As this process unfolded, Ivonne mentioned that this was their livelihood and the two of them came to her buyback centre every day with a load like the one we had just seen.


Denver began to tell us about the difficulties involved in keeping an informal business up and running. In past years, he ran an automotive garage at his home in order to do repairs. Local authorities discourage entrepreneurship without the proper permits, which are a hassle to acquire and are incredibly expensive. John explained that in order to operate, Blue Sky had three separate permits for storing waste, transporting waste, and collecting waste. If a business does not have these licences and the government finds out, the owner will receive a large fine and eventually a threat to close them down. John took us aside to explain that Blue Sky hopes to partner with this buyback centre in order to increase their surplus of glass and make things a little easier for Ivonne and the Klipfontein picking community.

Ivonne invited us into her home, a cinderblock one-story with cement floors and comfortable furnishings. Gershwin and our team sat on the couch and began to ask Ivonne a few questions. She informed us that she had been in the recycling business for quite some time and she had met Gershwin twenty years ago. Ivonne is strongly involved as she acts on the board of Sizakuyenza and is a member of Turn the Tide Foundation, a substance abuse counseling group. She brought the conversation back to the buyback centre, stating that her hours were regular business hours (9:00 to 17:00) and she was closed on weekends and holidays. This strict schedule and her five dogs limit her interaction with people who would steal recyclables. She reassured us that crime was not a large worry in Klipfontein. However, her truck was an issue for her. Their differentiator problems limit their traveling abilities, so they are unable to transport glass or sell materials to further companies. This results in them making less money than they potentially could. Ivonne has between 50-60 recycling clients per week and offers each of them R1.5/kg for their plastics; a much higher price than Blue Sky offers. She resells the plastic for R2/kg and Gershwin commented on how this was not particularly economical for her, but she responded that the pickers make the effort to bring their collectables to her and she wishes to give more to them.

Reflection and Learning:

Blue Sky considers themselves a mobile buyback centre and Ivonne’s buyback centre runs into many of the same frustrations that Blue Sky does. Their vehicle capacities are not where they would like them to be, it is difficult to earn a profit, and expanding their businesses is a daunting process. After meeting Ivonne and seeing her centre, it seems to be a great opportunity for Blue Sky. If our team can aid Blue Sky in increasing efficiency in their processes, perhaps this information can trickle down into the partnered buyback centres and they can all improve as a unit. This meeting also further solidified the stewardship for community that both Blue Sky and Ivonne embody. As we discussed the float earlier in our interview with Ivonne, she emphasised that she will never let a picker leave empty-handed. Her raised rates reduce her overall profit but she would rather make sure that a picker never has to go without food or wait on being paid. The social aspects overwhelmingly overcome the business side of the programmes we have interacted with. Compassion and generosity are two very important ethics that make up the very soul of both Blue Sky and Ivonne’s programmes, which could result in a successfully forged relationship between the two.

Notes for Future Scenes:

Our meeting with Ivonne progressed our team’s knowledge of buyback centres and the possibility of buyback partnerships with Blue Sky. We can now see how this type of partnership would mutually benefit both programmes and help them to flourish. Future Blue Sky buyback centre implementation could be more easily facilitated if they have a partner who knows all the ins and outs of the programme already. More research would need to be done on ideal areas for buyback construction, but that could be narrowed down with the help of Blue Sky’s picker database in order to see which locations would benefit the pickers the most.