New Study: Zero Waste Systems Could Create Thousands of Jobs for Durban Residents

Zero Waste Found to Be a Key Strategy to Build Strong, Sustainable Economies Post-COVID-19

16 February 2021 - A new study from GAIA finds that cities that invest in zero waste programs and policies create good green jobs, in addition to known benefits of reducing pollution and improving community health. This report comes as municipal governments worldwide are making critical decisions about which programs to invest in to increase climate resilience and rebuild local economies that have been damaged by the COVID-19 crisis. The study projects that if Durban were to recover 80% of recyclable and organic material in its waste stream, the city could create over 4,000 new jobs.

The study can be found at

In a global meta-analysis of job creation potential of different waste management sectors, the research makes clear that what’s good for the environment is also good for the economy. Zero waste strategies score highest on environmental benefits and create the most jobs of any waste management approach:

  1. Reuse creates over 200 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
  2. Recycling creates around 70 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
  3. Remanufacturing creates almost 30 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.

Zero waste is a comprehensive waste management approach that prioritizes waste reduction and material recovery, with the ultimate aim of creating a circular economy, shrinking waste disposal to zero. In contrast, disposal-based systems rely on incineration (“waste to energy”) and landfills to handle most of the waste stream, resulting in higher economic costs and environmental consequences.

Zero waste systems not only create more jobs, they create better jobs. Studies show that jobs in zero waste go beyond basic manual labor, provide higher wages, offer more permanent positions, and improve quality of life. A new project based in the Warwick Markets of Durban and facilitated by groundWork, Asiye eTafuleni and the Urban Futures Centre, plans to develop a zero-waste pilot with informal workers and waste pickers to explore these possibilities. Numerous policy frameworks call for more responsible waste management, including the recent Waste Picker Integration Guideline for South Africa (DEFF 2020). Given the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no time like the present to reimagine, and take action towards, a better future for all.

Report author Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at GAIA, states, “With the world still reeling from the pandemic, job creation is a top priority. Zero Waste offers a strategy to create good jobs and reduce pollution without breaking the bank. It’s a triple win for the economy, the environment, and the city.”

Musa Chamane from groundWork reminds us, “Waste pickers have already demonstrated the value they add to the waste management sector in Durban, diverting tons of materials from landfill daily. They are leading the transition to zero waste and it is time for municipalities to invest in them. There is an opportunity for Durban to play a leadership role in developing a zero waste city.”


Press contacts:
Claire Arkin, Communications Coordinator | +1 ‪(856) 895-1505
Tsepang Molefe | +27 74 405 1257


GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.

groundWork (gW) is a non-profit organisation that aims to improve the quality of life of vulnerable people in South Africa, and increasingly in Africa, through assisting civil society to have a greater impact on environmental governance. With over 20 years in operation, gW brings a highly experienced team to the project and a wealth of experience in environmental advocacy and activism. gW has recently expanded their support across Africa to fellow activists and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) who are calling for an end to plastic production and waste incineration, and who are working towards Zero Waste societies, and to governments on chemicals management. gW works closely with waste pickers through the South African Waste Pickers Association and has published a number of research and public reports related to waste. gW plays a core role in mobilizing waste pickers in the project, and networking the project with both South African and international activists (with whom they already have strong links), and civil society movements across Africa.

The Urban Futures Centre (UFC) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) is a well-established interdisciplinary research centre working on numerous social justice projects. UFC staff have extensive experience with participatory action research (PAR), and the use of creative methods for democratizing research and creating inclusive urban strategies. The UFC staff on the project will be responsible for the research, African Waste Management Learning Hub, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and creative dissemination components, as well as link the project into national and international scholar-activist networks working on related environmental issues.  

Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) is a non-profit organization that collaborates closely with informal workers and allied professionals to develop inclusive urban spaces that support sustainable livelihoods. AeT was founded 11-years ago, and collectively have over 70-years’ experience working in the Warwick Junction market area. AeT advocates for deep consultative and participatory processes, focused on promoting and developing good practice in inclusive urban planning and design, which empowers the working poor to become co-developers in their working environments. Through AeT’s interconnected workstreams - urban advocacy, urban design, urban intelligence and urban education - the organization has been proactive in advancing the socio-economic rights of informal workers. AeT has achieved positive, sustainable outcomes, and has influenced cities worldwide to develop creative and integrated approaches to handling the informal economy. The organisation’s sustained presence in Warwick, and established local and global networks, is of great value to the project in providing both access to the market, and to a diverse range of stakeholders. The AeT offices are based in the Warwick Junction, providing centrally situated office space for the project team. The AeT staff will play a key role in mobilizing informal market traders, as well as in the research, knowledge exchange and pilot component of the project.