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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Pietermartizburg South Africa

List of Waste Picker Groups in Pietermartizburg

Waste Picker Groups (2)
Hlanganani MaAfrika Waste Picker Cooperative
South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA)

City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Nonhlanhla Mhlophe, a waste picker from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Personal Story

Nonhlanhla left school in 1989 and became a domestic worker because her family needed money. She continued to work off and on as a domestic worker until 2002. Then, she reports, a friend told her about waste picking and took her to the landfill site. After the visit, Nonhlanhla told her friend she wanted to work in waste. The other waste pickers accepted her and she has been working in the landfill ever since. Nonhlanhla manages to look after five children on what she earns as a waste picker.

Formal Solid Waste Management System

The municipality collects waste from houses and businesses on a daily basis. There are also private contractors who pick up waste from businesses in town. Municipal trucks deliver mixed wet and dry waste to a single landfill. Trucks go first to the weighbridge then dump the waste. At the landfill, municipal workers used to harass the waste pickers and chase them out. However, this has changed since the waste pickers started to work with groundWork (an NGO supporting the development of the South African waste pickers Association).At the side of the landfill there is a private methane gas plant. It has been in operation since about 2010. Pipes run from the landfill to the plant and although Nonhlanhla is not sure how the methane is used, she did tell us that it does not burn the waste and does not affect the work of the waste pickers. The gas that is captured at this landfill is flared. The gas capture project and waste pickers on the landfill co-exist without any interference.The municipality has agreed to build a materials recycling facility (MRF) and is supposed to have started construction in April 2012. There was an agreement that some members of the waste picker cooperative would work as sorters in the new facility. Others would likely continue to work in the landfill. The MRF will cost government 10 million rand (US $1.164 million) and the MRF will be given to the cooperative of waste pickers with 75 members. Not all waste pickers that were willing to be part of the cooperative. Some of them thought that meetings are a waste of time while others thought that organization would never happen and they never registered their names to be cooperatives members although this was open to everyone for more than two years. Now the people who failed to register are blaming themselves and the leaders of the cooperative have agreed to accept applications from individual waste pickers who want to be part of the cooperative, but this will happen once the MRF is in operation.

Informal Waste Management System

There are more than 500 waste pickers who work in the both landfill the streets. There are about 475 waste pickers who work in the landfill and another 25 who collect from the streets. Waste pickers do not have any formal contracts with private companies or the municipal government and are not integrated into the formal waste management system. The waste they collect is unsorted and includes both organic and non-organic material.The waste pickers segregate in a sorting area on site at the landfill. There are many types of materials: four kinds of plastics – soft, hard, PET, HD – cans, cardboard, white paper, aluminum, copper, and steel. Nonhlanhla prefers to collect plastics because they are the easiest to handle. There is no current process for handling wet waste.After sorting, the waste pickers sell materials to one of four middlemen or to a private company called Central Waste, which operates outside the landfill. The company sends a truck with a driver to take the away the waste; therefore waste pickers do not need their own transport.

Waste Picker Organization

Cooperative (Hlanganani Ma Afrika)

The waste pickers formed a cooperative in February 2012 called Hlanganani Ma Afrika, which has 75 members, mainly women, out of a total of 475 waste pickers in the entire landfill. Hlanganani Ma Afrika belongs to the national South African waste pickers Association and has applied for registration status.The municipality informally recognizes the cooperative and has agreed to work with them in the new recycling facility. The central demand made by the workers has been to be provided work at the new facility. Additionally, they want to establish better working conditions and to run the recycling facility autonomously without middlemen. The Municipality has already agreed to these demands, as well as to providing electricity and bathrooms.