Informal waste pickers should be integrated into formal waste management sector, suggests analyst

17th October 2018

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online


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The informal waste economy in South Africa has been largely responsible for the high rates of post-consumer material recycling that have been achieved, GreenCape Sector Development Agency waste economy analyst Dr Kirsten Barnes noted during a presentation at WasteCon 2018, on Wednesday.

Her presentation dealt with the value and concerns of waste pickers operating in the informal waste sector in South Africa.

The agency is involved with various surveys and projects that aid in the development of effective waste management strategies in the Western Cape.

Barnes pointed out that a buyback centre survey conducted by the agency in Bellville in 2013, had found that waste pickers contribute significantly to recycling recoveries in the region, including around 40% of metal recovered, 90% of polyethylene terephthalate recovered and 80% of glass recovered from the post-consumer material stream.

She pointed out that most of the waste pickers surveyed had a high education profile, with most having passed Grade 12.

The majority (35%) of waste pickers surveyed stated that they entered this occupation owing to poverty, and 70% agreed that the biggest benefit of the job was making money – an average waste picker works between 8 and 14 hours a day, earning between R50 and R100 a day.

However, the majority of waste pickers indicated they do not like anything else about the job, such as it being dirty and that they are often insulted by business owners and residents in collection areas.

Therefore, Barnes said, it is necessary to formally integrate waste pickers into the waste management sector, to not only ensure more dignified working conditions, but to also expand the formal recycling economy in South Africa.

Concerns most often raised by waste pickers are health, access to waste materials, access to trolleys, trolley storage and lack of identification to register with organisations. GreenCape supplies gloves to waste pickers, to avoid glass cuts and exposure to disease.

The agency also identifies business owners in the region that can contribute waste consistently to waste pickers. GreenCape further offers an “earn a trolley” programme, which incentivises certain practices by waste pickers to earn themselves equipment.

GreenCape is also involved with the Greater Tygerberg Picker Project, which assists local pickers to develop their microenterprises for sustainable livelihoods and potential business growth as an entrepreneurs employer.

“The learnings from this project will assist in informing the relationship between South Africa’s informal and formal waste economies, to ensure that the development of the waste economy is inclusive,” said Barnes.

Meanwhile, she highlighted that the Department of Environmental Affairs is developing guidelines to better include the informal sector into the waste economy. An announcement on progress made to date is expected in April.

University of Western Cape waste and society chairperson Catherina Schenck, meanwhile, presented on a study done by the university, which investigated ten landfill sites in the Western Cape region.

She said South Africa generates about 54 425 t a day of waste and that there is about R17-billion worth of waste that goes to landfill every year, which remains uncollected for reuse or recycling.

Schenck mentioned that the formal waste sector employs 30 000 people nationally, and the informal sector employs an estimated 60 000 to 90 000 people, who are self-employed waste pickers, collecting a high percentage of South Africa’s recyclables.

The study investigated how practices by the management of landfills affect the livelihoods of landfill waste pickers, finding that there are no clear policies as to how waste pickers should be managed.

Schenck added that illegal dumping and health risks were also not adequately dealt with.

The waste pickers surveyed in the study said they earn between R300 and R700 a week.

The university is working with local authorities to improve waste pickers’ working conditions at landfill sites.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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