Waste pickers, recycling reclaimers, trolley men, city surfers… however South Africans know them, they’re a familiar sight on suburban streets, even during the country's lockdown.
What is a recycling reclaimer? These men and women are self-employed in the South Africa’s large informal sector. With a large flatbed trolley on wheels, they go from rubbish bin to rubbish bin on a suburb’s given waste collection days. With no formal training and no protective equipment, they salvage, sort, clean and transport loads of recyclables weighing up to 200kg. They do this on foot, crossing up to 25km a day.
Recycling reclaimers have to date never been included in municipal planning documents, though a pilot study conducted shortly before lockdown extrapolates that they reduce Pikitup’s collections by 5,866 tonnes every week in Johannesburg alone, and save municipalities about R750 million in landfill airspace… every year.
In effect, waste pickers subsidize South Africa’s entire recycling industry. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research reports that they collect between 80 and 90% of the country’s used packaging and paper. However, their marginalization means they receive a small fraction of the sale price for these recyclables. Click here to read full paper.
(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the organization, FES South Africa.)