Scene 6: A Working Buy Back Centre and Successful Picker

Scene 6: Mama Agnes’s Buyback CentreBackground:

Mama Agnes not only acts as a entrepreneur collecting recycling for an income, but also runs her own car wash for a profit. She began as a picker with Blue Sky but eventually evolved into the manager of her own buyback centre. She is incredibly self-sufficient and makes sure that she can provide for herself and her family.


Cast of Characters: Gershwin, John, Mama Agnes

Mama Agnes has been a picker for Blue Sky for around six years, and she now employs two workers for her recyclables and seven workers for her car wash. 


John and Gershwin brought our group to Mama Agnes’s house to see her buyback centre and carwash. We pulled into a vacant dirt lot next door to a Braai and a mountain of cans greeted us. A group of four men sat in plastic chairs around the cans, wrenching the tabs from the tops of the cans and tossed them over their shoulders. From this pile, Mama Agnes would hammer the cans flat in order to fit more in her collection containers. Two small girls, Mama Agnes’s granddaughters, flitted in and out of the workers and happily giggled as they scurried about.




Gershwin and John introduced us to Mama Agnes and we were given tours of her premises. She was nervous to talk to us because she spoke Xhosa and felt that her English was not good. She commented that she wished her daughter were there to translate for her. Once John said he would be there to help her out, she was even more welcoming and gave us information about her centre. Mama Agnes’s buyback centre supplements Blue Sky’s material collection with glass and cans and she puts the profits towards building additions onto her house. John explained that she will alternate buying materials and paying workers to construct the new parts.


  • What are the security concerns and preventative measures in place?
  • How is the float managed?
  • How often is the skip emptied?
  • 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:

We hopped out of Gershwin’s car and our shoes crunched in the dirt of Mama Agnes’s lot where she washes her cars. A huddle of men formed around the gargantuan pile of cans as they tore tabs from every can before lobbing them over their shoulders. Mama Agnes explained that two of her employees are responsible for recycling whereas the other seven aid in her carwash. Our group could immediately see that she was an exemplary picker that not only consistently supplies Blue Sky but also has furthered herself as an entrepreneur. She is constantly looking to improve as we observed through both her living space as well as her working processes. John led us through a space in a cement wall to show us where Mama Agnes was working on additions to her property. As he walked, John gestured and revealed to us that as Mama Agnes accumulates money, she budgets accordingly to amass materials and accommodate construction expenses. He joked with her about her house slowly transforming into a mansion and she burst out laughing.


In addition to these home improvements, we quickly realized that the employees were ripping the tabs off the cans in their sorting process. The cans themselves are steel while the top part, including the tab, is aluminum. If this aluminum is separated out, it can be sold at a higher rate then just the can itself. This illustrates Mama Agnes’s shrewd business skills as she took advantage of the material separation for increased profits. This sort of innovative thinking truly sets Mama Agnes apart from the other pickers. She is not only successful in implementing her own business strategies but she also supplies Blue Sky with an abundance of glass every month. Her success in this department is marked by the five ton skip sitting outside her house which she will fill to the brim each month for Blue Sky to come collect. Blue Sky provided her with this skip because she proved her ability to fill the skip every month on a consistent basis. Due to the fact that rates are offered based on material bulk, it is important that target goals are reached in order to justify keeping the skip on her property. Because Mama Agnes routinely reaches these goals and provides a reliable source of glass to Blue Sky, the skip stays.


Among the pickers that Blue Sky works with, Mama Agnes is notable in terms of commitment and innovation as she works admirably hard for her livelihood. It is for this reason that Blue Sky would trust Mama Agnes with a prominent role in the establishment of buyback centres throughout the communities. The relationship observed between Mama Agnes and the Blue Sky team demonstrates the trust and personal involvement that fosters the social development of the business. Pickers like Mama Agnes are vital to the operations of Blue Sky Recycling and will hopefully play an even larger role in buyback centres for Blue Sky in the near future.


Reflection and Learning:

Mama Agnes is an example of what motivation and dedication can result in, for she is supplying five tons of glass and a large portion of cans to Blue Sky. She provides for her family and also has enough to expand her house to provide more space for her family. This perseverance is truly inspiring and she is an ideal example of what Blue Sky would like to see in each of their pickers. Mama Agnes took matters into her own hands and became an entrepreneur with Blue Sky’s aid. They supplied her with a skip for her glass collectables and a smaller bin to help ease transport. From meeting her, our team learned just how profitable recycling could be if the proper hard work was put in. With every trip we go on, our team can see just how much the relationship between Blue Sky and their pickers is the most important aspect of their programme. John and Gershwin have a friendly repertoire with everyone they encounter and it is very refreshing to see. The pickers have an admiration for those two as well and that is why our team believes that any person or programme that Blue Sky works with will be treated with the utmost respect and compassion.

Notes for Future Scenes:

Our meeting with Mama Agnes showed us an example of the entrepreneurship that can flourish when a picker is willing to go above and beyond and take full advantage of the opportunities that Blue Sky is offering. If this success could be more widely publicised, it is our hope that more of Blue Sky’s pickers would be able to achieve this sort of success. They would be able to provide more for themselves and supply Blue Sky with more materials for them to increase their overall material intake.