Our Burning Planet


Partnership launched to upskill Joburg’s informal waste reclaimers

Partnership launched to upskill Joburg’s informal waste reclaimers
Informal recyclers make their way to Soweto Industrial Recycling Depots on 22 May 2019 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Hippo.co.za and Urban Surfer – a team of specialists in informal recycling – welcomed 50 informal waste reclaimers to a launch event to teach them recycling skills.

Insurance quote comparison website Hippo.co.za, in collaboration with Urban Surfer, hosted an event in Johannesburg on Thursday to launch their partnership, which aims to improve and recognise the work by informal waste reclaimers in Johannesburg. 

“From research, we know that between 80% to 90% of South Africa’s paper packaging waste is recycled by informal reclaimers making a living from collecting, sorting and selling recyclable waste,” said Bradley du Chenne, the CEO of Hippo.co.za.

“Informal reclaimers in South Africa have a 57% collection rate of recyclables… among the highest in the world. A special big thanks and well done to the waste pickers; you make a real difference in saving the planet and our country.”  

Hippo.co.za, with Urban Surfer – a team of specialists in informal recycling – welcomed 50 informal waste reclaimers to the event. Urban Surfer is teaching them recycling skills. All are from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and communities and survive by gathering and sorting waste like plastic, boxes, cans and glass to sell to recycling entities. 

Palesa Mathibedi, director for pollution and waste management at the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said supporting the initiatives of informal waste recyclers is one of the province’s goals. However, they are limited by the availability of funds. 

“As a province, we have a long-term 2030 goal to divert and clean at least 40% away from landfills and we cannot do that alone. As waste pickers, we know that currently you do the bulk of this recovery of recyclable material at no cost to the municipality or the government. You are saving us about R700 per tonne of waste that you collect. Your work is very important to us. 

Informal recyclers collect up to 90% of post-consumer packaging and paper recycled in South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

“To show that the work is very important to us we have projects set up to support yourselves, but the budget is very small and we do need collaborations, sponsorships and partnerships.” 

Mvuselelo Mathebula, the head of Johannesburg Waste Management and Regulation, said: “The city is currently left with four landfill sites that are left with a five-year lifespan. 

“If we don’t do anything, in no time we will not have landfills in the City of Johannesburg. We have started working with the waste pickers, including the South African Waste Pickers Association (Sawpa) and the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) to empower the waste pickers.”  

However, Wonderful Moyo of ARO denied being integrated into the City of Johannesburg waste management plan or working with the city. 

“At the present moment,” he said, “I have never heard of the integration with the city. We continue to do the work on our own. The last time we were in touch with the city was when they encouraged us to register a waste management entity so they can help us, but so far nothing. Maybe one of these days they will remember us.” 

Reclaimers are from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and communities, and survive by gathering and sorting waste like plastic, boxes, cans and glass to sell to recycling entities. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Sifiso Gumbi, a former informal reclaimer and now recycler relations officer at Urban Surfer, said: “Often the public looks at us as dirty people; we are looked down upon and not allowed in certain spaces. Even more, the ongoing stigma that we are good for nothing and most probably hooked on drugs does not make things better. 

“The public forgets that actually we are also trying to make a living, with most of us having families looking up to us for everything from food to clothing and putting children through school.” 

Gumbi said the Hippo-Urban Surfer partnership was centred on making waste pickers visible to the general public so they can learn more about recycling and how they can contribute to it. 

To ensure that waste pickers are recognised and their needs taken care of, Mathebula said the City of Johannesburg is going to:

  • Move waste pickers from the streets;
  • Enable them to get sorting sites;
  • Ensure that they are part of the waste mainstream;
  • Register the waste pickers in the City of Johannesburg;
  • Provide them with protective clothing;
  • Provide them with training; and
  • Improve their living conditions so they don’t rummage in bins. 

At the end of the event Hippo.co.za handed over waste management trolleys and personal protective equipment (PPE) to better equip the 50 informal reclaimers currently employed by Urban Surfer. 

Informal waste reclaimers Kagiso Munesi and Malindi Myaka were grateful for the PPE sponsorship. 

Munesi said, “This will give us access to some companies, buildings and neighbourhoods, because often when we are dirty and in our clothes we get dismissed. The uniforms give us identity.” 

Myaka said access to more places would enable them to make more money to take care of themselves and their families. 

“Even though I enjoy my job I don’t want to pick up waste for the rest of my life. Maybe in the long run, when I have enough funds, I will start my own waste picking company,” said Myaka. DM/MC

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Absa OBP

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  • Selma Browde Browde says:

    I am so thankful that you are alerting people who do not understand the amazing work these informal waste pickers are doing. It is heartbreaking to see them sleeping outside on pavements or under trees in all sorts of weathers, rain in summer, and and especially during our very cold winter nights. But can the DM put pressure on the City Council to keep their word regarding the promises they made which so far, according to the waste pickers, they have not done. We need group of voluntary watch dogs to monitor the new City Councillors with regard to the implemention of their promises.

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