Waste pickers have potential to add value to economy

The main drivers of waste generation are essentially expanding economies, increased production of goods and increasing populations.
The main drivers of waste generation are essentially expanding economies, increased production of goods and increasing populations.
Image: KABELO MOKOENA

We have all seen them - the people who push and pull trolleys along suburban streets collecting waste from dustbins outside homes and businesses.

Waste pickers are an integral part of recycling and the waste management system in SA, helping to divert recyclables away from landfill.

These are the people that broader society would rather pretend they do not exist, particularly in light of the perception that they are a public nuisance - they leave litter behind after sorting through bins, block roads with their trolleys and are alleged to be linked to increased crime in neighbourhoods.

Sometimes, as alleged in recent reports, waste pickers fall prey to crime. It is alleged that waste pickers in Ekurhuleni and Msunduzi have fallen victim to crime and we commend the SAPS investigations to bring the culprits to book.

But, it is these people who live on the margins of society to care for their families who have expert knowledge of the recyclables they deal with, and who have the potential to add a lot of value to the economy if they are to be considered whenever new recycling facilities are developed.

The SA government has put in a legislative framework for the protection of health, well-being and the environment by providing reasonable measures for reducing, re-using, recycling and recovering waste; and securing ecologically sustainable development while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

The National Waste Management Strategy, which promotes the four R's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover - was adopted in May 2012.

This is coupled to the fact that levels of recycling and re-use are relatively low and waste is not necessarily seen or considered as a resource with socioeconomic potential.

While the National Waste Management Strategy is presently under review, the National Development Plan's Vision 2030, adopted by the government in 2012, identified the implementation of the waste management hierarchy as a means to exploit job creation and economic production from this sector.

The main drivers of waste generation are essentially expanding economies, increased production of goods and increasing populations.

It is for this reason that waste pickers' transition from the informal to the formal economy is part of the Operation Phakisa chemicals and waste economy initiatives.

The specific initiative on separation of waste at source provides for investment in material recovery facilities.

Within the informal economy, it is the waste pickers who work through household waste, who depend on waste to earn a living.

*Modise is communications head at the department of environmental affairs

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