The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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Written by GroundWORK; South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA)


Country South Africa

October 22, 2014

Zero waste approach is a must in South Africa
Written by GroundWORK; South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA). 10/13/2014

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Un-recycled waste is a common sight and a sign of an inefficient governance and production system, which adds to the global burden of climate change. A zero waste approach [1] to the management of resources is what society needs. This week, waste recyclers or pickers in Spain will be imparting their experience of zero waste initiatives with their South African counterparts. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report [2], “Waste minimization, recycling, and re-use represent an important and increasing potential for indirect reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the conservation or raw materials, improved energy and resource efficiency and fossil fuel avoidance.”

Four provincial coordinators and an executive committee member of the South African Waste Pickers’ Association (SAWPA) [3] from Sasolburg, Vereeniging, Mafikeng and Pietermaritzburg will spend a week in Barcelona, which has increasingly become the hub of recycling and composting in the country. Like many towns across South Africa, in Barcelona waste picking is a socio-economic phenomenon that has increased over the years due to growing poverty and the economic vulnerability of these marginalized people.

Zero Waste Europe [4] and GAIA [5] will be hosting the waste pickers in Barcelona and these organizations promote adopting a zero waste approach to resource management as critical to creating employment and mitigating climate change. In addition, this Friday, as part of a global campaign under the banner Reclaim Power [6] there will be a day of action to stop the incineration of waste, which is of growing concern in South Africa as waste-to-energy incinerators are being proposed across the country, which lead to an increase in GHG.

Musa Chamane, Waste Campaigner at groundWork [7], explains why this trip is important for waste management in South Africa:

“SAWPA and groundWork support a zero waste approach as it creates jobs, saves the government money, and it combats climate change. SAWPA and groundWork believe that waste recycling’s ultimate goal needs to be zero waste and this cannot happen until everything, including organic waste, is composted. SAWPA is yet to implement projects focusing on this waste stream and this is a good opportunity for learning.”

Whereas in South Africa very little composting of organic waste takes place by pickers and focus is more on plastics, cardboard, glass etc., in Barcelona this is a large component of their recycling. Therefore, the aim of the visit is for these waste pickers to demonstrate how this type of waste recycling takes place in order for South African waste pickers to further their work towards zero waste.

“South Africa’s Waste Act (2008) currently does not talk to this kind of material and how it should be dealt with in the waste management system”, said Chamane. “This is problematic because the decomposition of organic waste results in methane emissions which are even more climate toxic than carbon dioxide. If South Africa is serious about climate change and job creation it will promote zero waste.”

groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)
South African Waste Pickers’ Association



[1] Zero waste is about modeling efficiency and sustainability by creating well-paying green jobs in the reuse and recycling industries, reducing consumption, and requiring that products be made in ways that are safe for people and the planet

[2] For more information on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report visit

[3] The South African Waste Pickers’ Association is a national movement of people working on waste dumps and in streets collecting waste and earning an income from selling this waste material for recycling. It has over 10 000 affiliates from all provinces, except the Northern Cape.

[4] Zero Waste Europe seeks to empower communities to rethink their relationship with resources. They advocate for zero waste strategies in Europe and beyond, and support local groups who have the potential to drive change in their region

[5] GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. Worldwide, we are demonstrating how to stop incinerators, address climate change and environmental injustice, and implement zero waste alternatives.

[6] For more information on Reclaim Power’s Global Day to Stop Waste Incineration visit

[7] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International