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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Sasolburg South Africa

List of Waste Picker Groups in Sasolburg

Waste Picker Groups (1)
Ikageng Ditamating

City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Simon Mbata, a waste picker from Sasolburg, South Africa.

Personal Story

Simon started waste picking after his factory contract with an industrial chemical cleaning company was terminated. As part of his previous job, he had to take waste to the landfill. He made friends with some of the waste workers and after losing his job, his new acquaintances encouraged him to work in the landfill. Eventually the landfill became overpopulated and in-fighting broke out. Therefore, Simon now works with 14 men in the Vaalpark area of Sasolburg, collecting recyclables on the streets.

Formal Solid Waste Management System

The municipality collects unsorted waste from residents and business once a week, i.e collects daily in different areas so that each area is serviced once per week. Bins are put on the streets, trucks collect from the bins and compact the waste, and then transport the waste to the landfill. In Sasolburg there is only one landfill and one garden refuse transfer center. There is no official system for recycling and composting, though there is some private recycling: big shops separate their waste and give it to private, small businesses or middlemen who then compact and bale it before they sell it.

Informal Waste Management System

Simon reports that there are about 176 waste pickers in total. The landfill has more or less 120 and there are 56 informal waste pickers collecting on the streets. Some work in the townships, others in the suburbs (though transport costs are expensive from the suburbs). The majority of waste pickers in the landfill are women and the men primarily work in the streets. Waste pickers most often go through the residential waste before the municipal trucks come to collect. Individuals select routes on a first come first served basis (there is no real system of allocating routes amongst the waste pickers).Simon and others sort in an open area under some trees. They talked to a municipal official to assist them. Once a week he comes, brings them plastic bags, and loads a truck with non-recyclables to take to the landfill. Communities were complaining about the state of the sorting area so the municipal official agreed to the current arrangement. In other areas they do not have an arrangement to take away the non-recyclables so it is more difficult.Although they work individually, they associate as an informal group. They have no proper place to sort materials and no transport. Some waste pickers take lighter loads of material, save them for a few days, and then sell them. Others have to sell on a daily basis.The waste pickers use supermarket carts to take the waste to middlemen. (Some middlemen provide trolleys, but this ties the waste pickers to that particular individual so they cannot shop around for the best price.) The middlemen compact the waste that the waste pickers have already sorted and cleaned. Simon’s group, which collects paper, plastic, glass, and metals, does not want to be tied to a middleman and therefore have remained independent.

Waste Picker Organizations

The waste pickers have no formal status but are recognized informally in the landfill and on the streets by the municipal government. The workers are not currently collectively organized (they previously formed a cooperative, but it wasn’t successful) but they belong to an informal national network called the South African Waste Pickers’ Association (SAWPA). They are beginning to engage with the municipality, particularly through the Economic Development Department by building a pilot project that is supported by the Plastic Employers Association of South Africa (PACSA). The municipality, the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs, PACSA, and Recycling Action Group are all involved in this pilot project.National Association: Waste pickers on landfills in various provinces elect committees to run local affairs. There are some informal street groups as well. Each province elects a provincial coordinator to represent it at general or national meetings of landfill representatives. The provincial coordinators meet by teleconference at least every three months. Each year there has been an opportunity to meet nationally (e.g. at COP or at workshops). This is the structure of their national association, the SAWPA – which is still operating informally.

Waste Picker Cooperative

Pilot project on separation at source and integration of waste pickers is a project supported by PACSA, the Sasolburg Municipality, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Provincial Department of Environmental Affairs, Recycling Action Group and now the International Labour Organization (ILO). The objectives of the project are to implement separation at source in the city with the integration of waste pickers into the system. Part of this pilot is the formation of a cooperative called Vaalpark Recycling project (2012). With 14 waste pickers in the pilot project, the cooperative will eventually run the waste and recycling project. Although it is registered – the Department of Environmental Affairs helped them to register free of charge – the project is yet to be launched.The pilot project will run in the Vaalpark area of the city. One of the motivations for separation at source is that the landfill is nearly full and the new site is far away from the city (88 km). The idea is for separation at source, which should then reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill. Project partners are holding regular meetings with waste pickers in the area and at the landfill. The pilot project has to have both types of waste pickers included (both waste pickers who work in the landfill and waste pickers who work in the streets). The pilot covers a small area, which includes 8,000 residents. The landfill workers wanted to be included because their materials come from this areaFor the pilot they formed a committee consisting of street and landfill workers: eight from the landfill and six from the streets. One of the problems they had was that most of the street waste pickers had no identity cards, so they arranged with the Department of Environmental Affairs to issue ID cards.For the pilot, the municipality has agreed to build a shelter/ transfer station as well as a toilet, washing facilities, and a sorting area. Industry will provide funding for baling machines. They will also provide uniforms and trolleys. Finally, they are also considering funds for the waste pickers themselves as this is a pilot and could mean less income at first from recyclables.

Current Central Issues

Simon mentioned that they are still in the process of negotiations for the pilot project. There was a delay because they were originally going to do an environmental impact study (EIS). However, it eventually turned out that an EIS was not needed. A campaign to inform residents has already begun. The ILO got in touch with waste pickers and is now supporting the project by offering training sessions. They are supporting workers in two areas: Sasolburg and Pietermaritzburg.