Eco-innovator acknowledged for contribution to supporting Gauteng’s waste pickers

16th May 2024

Eco-innovator acknowledged for contribution to supporting Gauteng’s waste pickers

Inspirational innovator in the waste management space, Urban Surfer significantly impressed the judges at last year’s Eco-Logic awards, where they scooped the coveted Eco-Innovation award for their mobile app and supporting systems for Gauteng’s waste reclaimers, or waste pickers. Their innovative approach to linking waste pickers with business has further earned them a slot at the NCPC-SA Sustainable Industries Conference this September at the CSIR in Pretoria.  

Founded by former waste collector, Sifiso Gumbi and his business partner, John Kullmann, Urban Surfer is a local organisation that offers solutions to informal waste and recyclable reclaimers: the people pulling trolleys containing paper, plastic, metal and cans that they sell to waste merchants for recycling.

The organisation provides informal waste reclaimers with equipment and access to infrastructure, better working conditions and the opportunity for sponsorship in their critical but challenging task. “Urban Surfer aims to partner with business to provide a sense of dignity, belonging and a sustainable income to informal waste collectors or ‘urban surfers’ and their families,” says Gumbi. The organisation currently supports over 250 waste pickers with the help of local businesses.

“We provide these urban surfers with trolleys and personal protection equipment (PPE) to assist them on their waste collection journey. Our aim is to assist them with better working conditions, equipment and access to infrastructure so the reclaimer may receive a greater return for their work.”

What makes Urban Surfer stand out as an eco-innovator, however, is their mobile application, which not only allows increased safety for the reclaimer, but provides an innovative and measurable corporate social responsibility (CSI) opportunity for potential sponsors. By means of GPS trackers on sponsored trolleys, and data inputted by waste sorting or buy-back centres, the Urban Surfer app tracks the type and volume of waste reclaimed from a geographical area. A company can literally help clean up its neighbourhood whilst supporting one or more informal waste collectors, reducing the waste sent to landfill and contributing to the circular economy.

This long-term viability is what caught the attention of the judges at the Eco-Logic Awards. The National Cleaner Production Centre South Africa (NCPC-SA) participates annually in the hosting and judging of the awards as part of its commitment to drive industry transition towards a green economy. In 2023, the Centre supported the Eco-Innovation award category which aims to highlight the incredible contributions made by individuals and organisations working towards building a greener and more eco-logic world.

NCPC-SA Communications Manager, Julie Wells: “The recognition bestowed upon Urban Surfer at the Eco Logic Awards underscores the importance of grassroots initiatives and industry working together in driving sustainable development. We thank Urban Surfer for what they are doing for waste pickers, and the waste pickers for what they are doing or our nation.”

The NCPC-SA will also be including Urban Surfer in its biennial Industrial Efficiency Conference on 11 and 12 September at the CSIR International Convention Centre (ICC), in Pretoria.   

The circular economy is a theme of the conference, and at the heart of the NCPC-SA’s waste minimisation approach in the Industrial Symbiosis Programme - a platform that helps to circulate unused or waste resources of larger companies to smaller businesses or waste reclaimers like Urban Surfer who create new business opportunities from them.

“Urban Surfer’s success story serves as inspiration for aspiring eco-entrepreneurs worldwide, proving that meaningful change that can originate from the most unexpected places. Therefore, as we celebrate Urban Surfer's triumph, we also recognise the pivotal role played by initiatives like the Eco Logic Awards in championing sustainability,” concludes Wells.