After last week’s National Recycling Day, and the importance of the work that recyclers or waste pickers, as they are known, do daily has once again come under the spotlight.
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.
Due to their efforts in the recycling industry, South Africa is now on par in the recycling arena with European countries – 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 African Reclaimers Organisation, said.
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 African Reclaimers Organisation, 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 is focused on the northern suburbs of Johannesburg (Saxonwold to Midrand), as well as the central areas of Braamfontein, Parktown, Auckland Park and Brixton.
The difference these recyclers have made to our environment is enormous, and so it was hardly surprising that the organisation became the first winners of the the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Award for Organisations in 2021.
Research by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (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 R780 million in landfill space alone, and that saving does not include the savings in waste removal trucking and fuel, the organisation said.
The African Reclaimers Organisation are promoting the use of their African Reclaimers Organisation Gereza Recycling bag (or any clear plastic bag or boxes) to place recyclable waste. This includes materials such as clear polyethylene terephthalate bottles, plastic milk containers, Kreepy Krauly pipes, plastic plant pots, large yoghurt containers, aluminum cold drink tins, aluminium pie plates, electronic waste, cardboard and paper.
It urged residents to place items that has value to waste reclaimers in boxes or clear packets on the pavements on collection day.
Soiled containers should be rinsed so they are clean for collection, and bottle tops and labels should be removed, as reclaimers cannot re-sell these.
African Reclaimers Organisation spokesperson and business development manager, Luyanda Hlatshwayo, said: “When informal reclaimers were first seen on our streets, they were often stigmatised in our society, but people are beginning to understand the essential role we play when it comes to recycling.”
He said it is important for people to value reclaimers and for reclaimers to be proud of the contribution they make.