African Reclaimers Organisation celebrates its birthday

Reclaimers celebrate the African Reclaimers Organisation’s birthday with a trolley dash.

Reclaimers celebrate the African Reclaimers Organisation’s birthday with a trolley dash.

Published Dec 6, 2023


The African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) – the first organisation of recyclers that united those who work in landfills and streets – celebrated its fifth birthday this weekend with two celebrations in Johannesburg.

The first event was for reclaimers, partners, champions and sponsors at The Troyeville House in Troyeville. It featured a trolley surfing dash down Pretoria Street; an art exhibition curated by Tamzyn Botha, project director at Shade; messages of support from partners; and live entertainment.

The second was the DJ-led after-party that took place at Newtown Lifestyle in Newtown.

Due to the ARO’s efforts in the recycling industry, South Africa is now on par in the recycling arena with European countries, as 80 to 90% (by weight) of paper and packaging material recycled in South Africa is entirely due to the efforts of these green champions.

The organisation is focused on the northern suburbs (Saxonwold to Midrand) as well as the central areas of Braamfontein, Parktown, Auckland Park and Brixton.

It is currently actively also organising reclaimers in Mpumalanga and the Western Cape.

The difference these recyclers have made to our environment is enormous and so it was hardly surprising that the organisation became the first winner of the the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Living Planet Award for Organisations in 2021.

Residents are urged to separate their waste and help both the environment and the task of the waste-pickers, who are now an integral part of the landscape.

According to the organisation, these reclaimers fill a critical gap in waste management in South Africa, where, in some parts, waste management services are often non-existent.

Many are members of the ARO, which was founded in 2018 and was the first organisation of recyclers that united those who work in landfills and streets.

It now has more than 6 000 members and it is steadily growing its numbers.

Research by the CSIR has shown that close to 90 000 South Africans work as informal recyclers, collecting close to 90% of all materials that are recycled.

This has led to South Africa being ranked third behind countries such as Sweden on its recycling rates.

Informal waste reclaimers collect discarded items that would normally end up in landfills and the environment and sell these to buy-back centres for recycling.

Their work saves municipalities about R780 million in landfill space alone, and that saving does not include the savings in waste removal trucking and fuel, the organisation said.

ARO spokesperson and business development manager Luyanda Hlatshwayo is proud of what the organisation has achieved within the past five years. This includes organising and formalising themselves into a democratic organisation, and establishing and sustaining strong alliances with a range of partners, particularly with residents.

They have also secured government recognition, from local government to national government.

“We are living our five-year plan as we speak. We have set up our own company, developed a successful working model, and have secured assets such as trucks of our own and a commercial-scale warehouse and plant.

“In the next five years we want to scale the business. To grow into more communities in Gauteng and other provinces, own a few more warehouses and hire more reclaimers and so eliminate poverty from the reclaimers. It will also make a difference in the environmental space,” Hlatshwayo said.

Debbie Cunningham, a resident at the Carlswald North Lifestyle Estate, said they work closely with the reclaimers and value their work.

“It was 2020, the year of lockdown, when I saw a reclaimer named Petros still pushing his trolley, trying to provide food for his family. We started forming a relationship with him and tried to find ways to uplift him financially and socially with the drive to reignite dignity in knowing what he is doing is bettering the environment as a result of his efforts day in and day out,” she said.

The estate, with more than 500 households, decided to work with ARO. Four years later and the system is running smoothly. The residents have seen the impact it has made to the normal reclaimer you see on the streets to just take part in separating their recyclables and having the bag simply picked up once a week.

Pretoria News