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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Nomacebo Mbayo

Nomacebo Mbayo, 29, is a member of the South African Waste Pickers’ Association (SAWPA). She lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She was very excited to participate in the United Nations climate change conference (COP17) in South Africa in December 2011, where waste pickers with the Global Alliance and SAWPA spoke at press conferences, marched through Durban for climate justice, and lobbied COP17 leaders, as well as held with each other at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s ‘Peoples’ Space.’

Three years ago, Nomacebo began working as a street waste picker with her mother. People know them as the ladies who take away bottles after parties, so many people contact them before their weekend festivities. Mother and daughter sell the recyclables to a middleman who takes 40% of what they could earn — a situation Nomacebo wants to improve for waste pickers.

Nomacebo says there is a lot of work to be done in the Cape Town landfills too. She believes the women need to voice their opinions and grow as leaders.

In an interview at COP17, Nomacebo told a BBC reporter: “We need to recognize the South African waste pickers as well as global waste pickers because these are people that make sure that climate justice is done. We are saving trees from being cut … as well as taking back plastic and recycling it then we are doing more justice because the oil is kept in the soil and that is what we want. At the same time, what we are doing puts bread on the table … It’s creating jobs which is the biggest problem in South Africa. Why don’t we just give waste pickers a chance? … Let them create this zero waste system.”