Possible discussion on waste pickers

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  • kunene47
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Re: Possible discussion on waste pickers

My name is Lucas and I am a retired environmental health practitioner. I worked in the city of Johannesburg for a number of years. During my engagement with the health department I was encouraged by a colleague to apply for a regional mangers post in the solid waste department where I was appointed after a string of interview processes. I was in charge of a depot of approximately a thousand employees ranging from admin staff, fleet and unskilled labor.  My main role apart from managing staff and fleet, was to ensure that the area under my jurisdiction (approximate population 400000) was clean, sanitary and that all the solid waste by-laws were adhered to (collection of and disposal of household refuse, sweeping of streets, highways, flushing of shop fronts and street gutters). At the time recycling was not regarded as an important aspect of the city's objective and the solid waste department paid little attention to that respect. The process only became popular in the early 90s not only in Johannesburg but in the country in general when dumping and littering became rife especially in the cities and towns. due to an influx of people due to relaxation of laws and so on.  

Waste picking has currently become a big business in Johannesburg in particular and pickers have formed themselves into small collaborative groups and syndicates. To control the scourge of littering and dumping,  the waste management department came up with awareness, education and outreach programs encouraging communities to separate their refuse at source i.e. at the household level before the waste collection day.  This call has had no positive results.  Although this practice has become common and popular in the city and surrounding suburbs including some townships, it is still in its infant stage. The pickers are not registered and operate informally lacking proper control and discipline. For instance, in some areas they create a public health nuisance by emptying refuse bins in search for recyclable material. This happens on the day the waste is collected by the municipality. In the process they the leave the area littered with paper . As mentioned earlier that the process is informal and uncontrolled, any vacant site is used as a sorting area and this result in conflict with the immediate communities. 

The municipality has made no provision of infrastructure for waste pickers and this pushed them to operate as indicated above. It wished that the waste pickers could be under its control with the the products sold at its depots where facilities are provided. This arrangement could not materialize as the pickers were not prepared to work for the city at a cost determined by it for their products. Some interviewed by the media indicated that they were paid more by the private sector compared to what the city offered. Because of this misunderstanding, they were left to fend for themselves. There were private companies and individual who wanted to lure the pickers to work for them promising them PPEs and safe trollies to haul their products, but the pickers were not interested in the offers. Although some were lured to the arrangement but pulled out at a later stage. Many big cardboard and paper manufacturing companies joined the recycling business. They have developed a similar collection system as the council providing bags to households and collecting the recycled waste on the same day as the municipality though at different times. 

The city has encouraged households especially in the suburbs to put out their recycled waste (plastic, paper,) with other waste on the scheduled collection day. But the system seem to be failing since the informal pickers collect this early in the morning before the council start operating- which is normally after after 09:00 am. The suburbs also have advantages where special facilities are provided where garden waste, bottle, plastics, tins or metals are be deposited for recycling. The townships have no such facilities and hence the indiscriminate dumping of recyclable material which renders the areas unsightly and insanitary.  

Waste pickers are making some good sum of money. When interviewed by the media one waste picker indicated that he was making close to a thousand rand a day. He further mentioned that his group have arrangement with some of the high rise and cluster complexes where 20-30 refuse bins are provided and this was where the money was based on the the amount of waste generated therefrom which is mainly recyclable.

Waste pickers while making money are at the same time saving our planet by keeping our cities, rivers and open spaces free from pollutants. This effort can only be enhanced if we can change our behavior of polluting and fouling our environment.
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