SAWPA Statement: Collapse of landfill and death of waste picker

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“It is high time that municipalities take the work of the waste pickers seriously, by creating an enabling environment through integration of waste pickers into waste management systems”. SAWPA chairperson Lefa Mononga

Ennerdale landfill site which is located in Lawley, south of Johannesburg under the guardian ship of the City of Johannesburg was rocked by an unusual accident. At least one body of the female was discovered in a pile of waste while others are still missing. This follows an accident where the waste slid on top of waste pickers that were working at the landfill on Thursday 2nd March 2023. It has now been confirmed that the deceased was a waste picker. A number of waste pickers were working at the site collecting recyclable materials when the landfill collapsed.

This unfortunate incident adds to a number of other challenges faced by waste pickers in different landfills around the country. The Waste Act 2008 of South Africa promotes waste pickers integration into municipalities. Under the act municipalities are expected to make sure that waste pickers do not access the city dumps through back doors, and that waste pickers are properly integrated into waste management systems. The Act legitimise the existence of waste pickers and gives them the right to salvage waste in an orderly manner agreed upon between both parties. A number of municipalities have ignored the call as a result waste pickers are not protected when they do their work in various dumping sites in South Africa.

The South African Waste Pickers Association assisted by environmental justice organisation, groundWork has for years been advancing the waste picker struggle. The national government has now recognised waste pickers through National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) as well as Waste Pickers Integration Guidelines (WISA). Municipalities have an obligation to register all waste pickers working in their area of jurisdiction. After registration they have to develop the plans as to how do they work with waste pickers so that they can create an enabling environment for their livelihoods to thrive. Waste Pickers are earning an honest living because they are not stealing or breaking the law.  They need to be assisted and protected for the good work that they are doing which is providing a service to the citizens and they are also helping in mitigating impacts of climate change.

Waste pickers are environmental champions, as they keep our environment clean making sure that the rivers as well as drains are not blocked by taking waste back to the system. They are not recognised as workers but the formal recycling industry would not exists without the waste pickers. The recycling industry is worth more than R18 Billion but a very small amount goes to waste pickers. South Africa has introduced Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes (EPR) for all the packaging waste materials to be recycled making sure that waste materials are not designed for landfill.

South African Waste Pickers Association would like to send condolences to the families of the deceased and we hope those that are still buried if any will soon be discovered. This is a lesson for all the municipalities that we need to collaborate with waste pickers to make sure that we prevent accidents.

South African Waste Pickers Association