Finding a job in these difficult times is not easy, and it’s even more difficult for many people with mobility impairments, according to Dudley Flugel, chairman of the Academy for Adults with Autism.
The non-profit focuses on providing specialised, high levels of care to adults on the autism spectrum. They have a residential home and focus on projects for daily enrichment.
Their latest initiative is Eco Bugs Recycling, started in 2019 By Mr Flugel and his wife, Debbie. They hit on the idea of creating work for their son, Jarred, 35, and Brandon King, 30, who lives with them in Bergvliet.
From Monday to Wednesday, they collect recyclables from the surrounding residents and on Thursdays they sort them into 12 categories.
With the growth of other recycling initiatives in the Constantia valley, they are now looking for new customers to sustain the project and expand it to employ other adults with autism who would not normally find work in the open market.
When the Bulletin visited on Thursday September 8, they were sorting items from a bakkie load of recyclables.
“The aim is to improve their lives and feeling of self-worth by providing them with occupation, social skills and direct community involvement,” said Mr Flugel.
Bottles clunked into enormous bags as Mr King separated plastic from a cardboard box. Jarred deftly unscrewed bottle tops, throwing these into a separate bin before removing labelling and finally tossing the plastic into another huge bag.
Ms Flugel said the sorting provided them with exercise and also occupational therapy.
“Through this project, we want to raise awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum, help keep the community clean, and further include autistic adults in the general community’s everyday life.”
Once the team has collected a ton of recycling, they sell it to converters who collect it once Eco Bugs has sorted it.
All funds raised go to ensuring the sustainability of the project. However, there is not much money in recycling, according to Mr Flugel. Bags of recycling collected over the past six months fill the yard, but they will only bring in about R100 once sold to the converters, and that’s not enough to cover costs. Eco Bugs earns most of its money from residents who support the project by paying R120 once a week or R65 twice a month to have their bags of recycling collected.
Eco Bugs relaunched in July 2021 and by the beginning of this year they had doubled their collections.
Donald Gammon, of Bergvliet, heard about the Academy for Adults with Autism through his sister in Johannesburg, who has an autistic son at a similar academy.
“We’re supporting this positive, reliable service because they offer a convenient collection for our recycling that avoids us having to take it to a depot ourselves,” said Mr Gammon.
Another resident, Gail Cox, said it is a “rich experience” having Jarred collect their recycling. New to the area, she said her family used to throw everything away, but now they sort and wash recyclables because they see the face behind the collection – those who are trying to make their way in the world as someone who speaks and moves differently.
Local teacher, Louise Ansley, said it was a well-run, worthy community project. “It resonates with me because there are not many job opportunities for young people with special needs.”
Mona Mkumatela, who works in education for a non-profit, said she saw the need for training companies to take on people with autism. “And it’s good to know that the money is going to a good cause. Brandon doesn’t speak but is so friendly and very good at collecting, even picking up litter on our verge,” she said.
Kara Levy, marketing manager of the Constantia-based PETCO, which specialises in the recycling of fully-recyclable-plastic, or PET, bottles and products, said they had been associated with the project since August 2019.
“We are happy to support this project, which is solving two challenges by enriching and empowering those on the autism spectrum and giving the community an opportunity to recycle and keep the environment clean.”
Contact Eco Bugs at 021 712 1939, 083 627 9638 or firstname.lastname@example.org