WATCH | This waste reclaimer is flipping the script on sustainability

Just under 30 minutes from Cape Town’s city centre is the Samora Machel township. Here, Aphiwe Koti rummages through piles of trash to rescue recyclables.

South Africa has over 60 000 waste reclaimers who, just like Koti, collect reusable materials from dumping sites in exchange for a small financial reward from buyback centres.

Despite their efforts to minimise heaps of rubbish, waste reclaimers endure stigma in society.

“Some people just treat us like dogs,” Koti says. But after participating in a film project, he was inspired to confront these stereotypes.

Koti captured the challenges faced by waste reclaimers in the 20-minute documentary Street Dogs.

Through the DOCi and AFS for Human Rights Programme hosted by the DOCi - Emerging Filmmakers Programme, Koti and his classmates turned their lens on the impact waste reclaimers make in achieving both a sustainable environment and livelihood.

In South Africa, one in every two young people do not have a job. Koti’s film brings to light his fear of being unemployed and how this has fuelled his participation in the trade since he was 16 years old.

With the documentary, he reframes his role as pivotal in the waste management industry.

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“What I hope to achieve is to teach people that waste reclaimers are important,” Koti says. Every year they collect over 80% of people’s unwanted trash to divert and redistribute, saving municipalities more than R300 million.

Koti’s documentary premiered at the Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival in 2021.

By showcasing his unfiltered experience, Koti situates waste reclaimers as essential workers, serving both the economy and the environment.

“This is our planet. We need to care for it because there’s still a generation after us,” he says.

Footage by Street Dogs was used in the creation of this film.