Waste Pickers Efforts Remain Key in a Dwindling Economy

20 August 2019 - SAWPA (South African Waste Pickers Association) [1] is hosting their 5th National Biennial General Meeting (BGM) celebrating 10 years of their worker justice struggle and unveiling the waste pickers integration guidelines for waste management at a local level. The meeting will elect new leadership for the next 2 years, and will plan and decide on the way forward for the waste picker movement in South Africa. The gathering will bring together 120 waste pickers, working in more than 70 municipalities. The waste pickers work on  waste landfill sites and on the streets.

Millions of people worldwide make a living collecting, sorting, recycling, and selling materials that others  regard as waste. In a number of countries, waste pickers provide the only form of solid waste collection, providing widespread public benefits and  leading to the achievement of high recycling rates.

Currently in South Africa there are 6 material recovery facilities - also known as recycling centres - in 5 municipalities operated by waste picker cooperatives. Various municipalities have been frequenting these projects to learn from them and there is a growing hope that one day each municipality in South Africa will have at least one material recovery facility where waste pickers not only earn their livelihoods, but they are able to lead and take control of these projects and support better waste management in South Africa. South Africa has a potential of creating a number of jobs while avoiding climate change gasses produced by waste on landfill sites. Research shows that recycling creates ten times more jobs per ton of waste compared to landfill and incineration. 

With the latest unemployment figures hitting a record high at 29%, formalizing the informal markets is one of the strategies that could go a long way in capping the unemployment crisis in the country. Waste pickers contribute to local economies, to public health and safety, and environmental sustainability. While recognition for their contributions is growing in some places, they often face low social status, deplorable living and working conditions, and get little support from government. Increasingly, as waste is recognised as a valuable resource waste pickers face challenges due to competition from strong political and private interest.

The SAWPA BGM is supported by the environmental justice action group groundWork [2]. groundWork was also instrumental in the formation and organisation of waste pickers into SAWPA. The gathering will also initiate a process of formal registration for all SAWPA members which will assist in mobilizing and documenting all waste pickers in the country. 

SALGA (South African Local Government Association) [3] will also be part of the meeting. SALGA has been working with SAWPA in formulating the waste pickers guidelines, these guidelines are to be adopted by all the municipalities with a clear mapping on how to integrate waste pickers into the municipal waste system. According to Professor Rinie Schenck, waste management researcher, informal waste pickers recycle 90% of the recyclables collected from households in South Africa. This possibly saves municipalities up to R750 million in landfill space every year.

[1] SAWPA improves livelihoods, recycling, recognition of waste pickers, promotes the rights of waste pickers, promotes Waste Picker Law, organizing at local and national level, reduces vulnerability and risk, develops and promotes MBOs, is against privatization, and works to strengthen unity and cohesion among waste pickers.
[2] groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice organisation working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International. @groundWorkSA
[3] SALGA is an autonomous association of all 257 South African local governments. SALGA has set out its role to represent, promote and protect the interests of local governments and to raise the profile of local government.

For more information contact:
Simon Mbata
South African Waste Pickers Association
+27 66 219 1232

Musa Chamane
Waste Campaign Manager
groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa
+27 82 380 2237