Lise Kuhle

Lise Kuhle knows her way around an angle grinder and a circular saw. It’s all part of being a hands-on social entrepreneur. In 2010, she founded Eco Smart, a business that manufactures commercially viable products such as recycling boxes, iPad covers, hotel slippers, conference and shopping bags, out of up-cycled waste materials. One of these products, a geyser blanket made from potato chip packets and billboards, was named the SAPRO Recycled Product of the Year and was featured on Talk Radio 702 as part of the Nedbank Business Accelerator Campaign as well as on Summit TV’s Big Small Business show. Her central workshop in Germiston is deliberately situated within a 5km radius of 107 settlements. Social entrepreneurs like Lise “do good by doing good business” and she aims to help to reduce the unemployment rate in South African by 1%. To this end, as part of a job creation initiative, Eco Smart uses a franchise production model to enlist community projects and non-governmental organisations in its manufacturing process. The silver lining of trash is that it’s free, allowing up-cycled products like hers to compete with nonrecycled products in both quality and price. At the same time, Eco Smart diverts half a ton of waste that would otherwise go to our ever-overflowing landfills. When she’s not up-cycling the world one plastic bottle at a time 33-year-old Kuhle is a feature writer for Ethical Living magazine and gives talks on recycling to businesses and schools. She is currently designing a hotel range sourced from the hospitality industry’s own waste products, as well as designing a bicycle trolley to be used by the trolley recyclers known as “pickers”. When she was a prefect at Rhenish Girls High School, Kuhle was told by her principal that “if it’s not broken, you don’t need to fix it”. She may not have trashed the advice but she definitely recycyled it to contribute to a more sustainable future. — Rudi Benadé