Packaging Industries deny waste pickers’ livelihoods in ignoring their Extended Producer Responsibilities

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Press Statement: South African Waste Pickers Association 

The National Coordinating Committee (NCC) of the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) convened in Johannesburg from 30 November to 2 December 2023. The purpose of the meeting was to review progress of the organisation by looking at past activities and planning for 2024. The meeting also deliberated on the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging materials given that there have been many barriers and challenges identified in this system.

The EPR scheme for packaging in South Africa has reached its second year of implementation within the packaging industry under the banner of Pro Alliance. Plans for the scheme gazetted by Minister Barbara Creecy gives a clear directive that informal workers such as waste pickers should be involved in the implementation process. The scheme came into force around the same time as the Waste Picker Integration Guidelines which were approved in 2018. The Waste Picker Integration Guidelines were developed for municipalities, industries, and government as a simple guide as to how they can work with waste pickers.

Some municipalities are pushing back against integration and don’t see a need to integrate waste pickers; they don’t even understand the integration process. The will is not there because they fail to even talk to waste pickers who they see roaming the streets. Municipalities such as eThekwini, Tshwane Metro, Msunduzi, UMngeni and Secunda have displaced waste pickers by abusing and even killing waste pickers by brute force and brutality – removing them from where they have been operating for the last 30 years. Municipalities are using their landfill licences that they do not allow them to work with waste pickers, but Section 51 (I) of the Waste Act of 2008 does allow for salvaging of waste, but in an organised and agreed manner between the municipality and waste pickers.

Municipalities such as Metsimaholo in Free State, as well as Mpofana in KwaZulu Natal have embraced waste pickers and have created an enabling environment by supporting what they do. “Waste pickers earn an honest living, we don’t steal from anyone, we are also saving landfill airspace and we are mitigating the impacts of climate change by keeping our environment clean,” said Lefa Mononga (SAWPA) National Chairperson from Free State Province.

“Municipalities such as Johannesburg have gone ahead with procuring a municipal waste incinerator because they don’t take notice of us, this has the effect of taking away our livelihoods. We will meet them in court,” said Musa Chamane, Waste Campaign Manager at groundwork.  A number of private waste management companies such as Enviroserve failed to get approval on their incinerators in Tshwane and Wellington in the Western Cape, because waste pickers told the minister that there is a chance that they will lose their livelihoods should municipal waste incinerators gets licences. Waste pickers have not moved, and they are still against municipal incinerators due the threat they pose to jobs for the less skilled majority. Incinerators are well known for taking recyclable materials as well making it is difficult to have recycling processes co-existing with them and breaking the circular economy. In addition, incineration processes cause GHG emissions.


On the other hand, the packaging industry is moving at a snail’s pace in forming relationships with more 90 000 waste pickers in the country, despite Minister Creecy’s directive to work with waste pickers. They are stalling deliberately because the EPR scheme compels them to pay a service fee to waste pickers, but that is not happening. Industries cite several problems such as: they cannot get hold of SAWPA, while SAWPA has a website as well as contact details for the leaders of the movement. There appears to be no will on the part of industry to work with waste pickers. We live in a state where the middle class cast aside those that don’t have means, it is a shame.

Crooks also take advantage waste pickers, some become self-elected speakers for the waste picker movement, taking decisions for them and even speaking on their behalf in the media. The South African Waste Pickers Association constitution made it clear in its formation in 2009 that they will speak for themselves, and they will not allow anybody other than one of them to represent them.

“We have seen in boardrooms and negotiation spaces occupied by industry, academics and NGOs talking about waste pickers’ issues while they are not there. They even go to the extent of taking decisions for us without us being present, this is a deep disrespect. Waste pickers are at the bottom of the social class; however this does not mean we cannot use our minds and efforts to secure our livelihoods. We hope, therefore, to be taken seriously as from today,” Lefa Mononga.


Media Contact:

Tsepang Molefe, +27 74 405 1257,