Artist gives new life to plastic waste

World-renowned Mbongeni Buthelezi's artwork made of blown hot plastic waste. The artist has exhibitted abroad in places like New York.
World-renowned Mbongeni Buthelezi's artwork made of blown hot plastic waste. The artist has exhibitted abroad in places like New York.

Mbongeni Buthelezi from Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal uses predominantly recycled plastic to create magical murals.

He says it's not easy to explain the skill. His finished works can easily be mistaken for an oil painting.

"A heat gun is used to stick plastics. I don't use any other foreign materials, not even glue," says Buthelezi.

He relocated to Soweto for his art education.

"My interest in art started when I was in grade 5. I resumed my formal art classes at the African Institute of Art, a community-based institution that was based at Funda Centre in Soweto.

"I was introduced to the use of formal or traditional art materials such as oil paint on canvas, acrylics, watercolours [my favorite], printmaking, sculpture, as well as basic skills in drawing.

At times it was very difficult to access these materials as they were very expensive and I couldn't afford them.

"Through several experiments I found myself drawn to plastic. The rest is history."

Since he started 28 years ago he has participated in solo and group exhibitions, art fairs and has commissioned locally at The Da Vinci Hotel & Suites at the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, and in many countries including the US, Germany, Belgium and Barbados.

"Last year, I was commissioned to do another big one for a new hotel, also at the Mandela Square, which is still to be installed later this year."

However, he is more than just an artist. Through his work he has become an advocate against plastic pollution.

"I think we only need to change our attitudes as a people towards this material. I don't believe the world doesn't need plastic - all we need to do is change our attitudes and the way we go about disposing of it.

"I use rubbish to create something beautiful. I collect something that has no value and give it new life. That's what we can do with ourselves and our lives.

"Plastic is considered to be dirt but when I use it to paint, I first clean it and then give it energy in a different space.

"Once I breathe new life into the plastic, it becomes something new that belongs." 

Clothes for a clean planet

Gina Tarboton Dyer and Loren Dyer together make up GiLo, which stands for "Give Love back to our planet".

The clothing designers are deeply passionate about the planet. "The amount of waste accumulating on it, in our oceans and as ground fill will take more than 200 years to break down," said Gina.

Born in 2015, they have also expanded to Australia. They hope to change consumer mindsets and make a difference by providing stylish clothing without guilt.

At present, GiLo uses fabrics made using recycled plastic (PET) for the puffer jacket range, board shorts and lifestyle shorts range, as well as a synthetic fibre called "SEE".

Gina says they collect plastic waste from oceans and cities around the world. Plastic bottles are then compressed into bails and shipped to the factories in China and Taiwan, broken down into chips, stretched into yarn and woven into fabric.

The inner filler of the puffer jacket is called Sorona, a polymer developed by Du Pont, which acts as an insulator.

"It's hypoallergenic, and its not down [feathers] so no ducks are harmed in the process. This Sorona filler is made of 37% plant-based materials," said Gina. They also try to monitor and control the use of hazardous chemicals.

"We work with a company called Intertek, who test to detect any restricted hazardous substances. They give us a certificate for this."

The GiLo range is available online and in boutiques across SA. 

Retailers reduce their carbon footprint

Image: Supplied

KFC rolled out paper straws last month, aiming to have 900 branches countrywide plastic free by July 1.

The paper straw is an improvement on the straws launched earlier this year and helps eliminate an average of 60 million straws a year.

Thabisa Mkhwanazi, KFC Africa's public affairs director, says the straws were tested by dipping them into water for more than five hours and it still remained intact.

The food outlet will discontinue plastic cups next and would like to be completely plastic free by 2025.

  • Mugg & Bean released their first 100% compostable and biodegradable take-away Eco Cup this week.
  • Pick n Pay launched a "nude" fruit and vegetable produce wall.

The plastic and packaging-free zone is offered in 13 stores across the country.

Paper bags are available as well as reusable netted fresh produce bags at R7,50.

Liz van Niekerk, head of produce and horticulture for the supermarket chain, says customers are encouraged to rinse their produce before use, similar to most packaged produce.

"The nude wall produce is delivered to store in boxes, so there's no unnecessary packaging. To keep this fresh from farm to store, the cold chain is maintained perfectly," Van Niekerk said.

Pick n Pay retail executive Paula Disberry says previously the retailer's loose produce range wasn't as popular as its prepacked products.

"We believe this is shifting as consumers become more conscious about the environment," says Disberry.

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