Together for tomorrow


How you can support our waste reclaiming and recycling heroes

by | Apr 18, 2020

Reclaimers have been excluded from the list of essential services. As result these people, an integral part of our municipal waste management system, are barred from earning a living.

Waste pickers or reclaimers are the silent environmental heroes who form the backbone of the recycling industry in South Africa. They sort recyclable materials from non-recyclable waste in residential bins and landfills along their established routes .

Private recycling companies only collect the recyclables that are put out in separate recycling bags. Reclaimers salvage recyclables that most residents throw into the bins destined for landfills. It’s thanks to reclaimers that South Africa is able to boast European recycling standards.

According to the CSIR 2016 report, waste pickers are estimated to have saved municipalities between R309.2 – R748.8 million in landfill airspace in 2014, at no cost to the local authorities. They diverted recyclables away from landfill at around 16 to 24 tons per picker per year.

It is estimated that there are between 6,000 to 10,000 reclaimers in Johannesburg. A study for the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries showed that up to 90 000 South Africans work as informal recyclers. These numbers mean that tens of thousands of incomes have been shut off since lockdown.

African Reclaimers Organisation organiser Eli Kodisang says reclaimers appealed to government to include them as essential services, but this appeal was declined. “After the lockdown started, we spoke to the minister and explained why we are an essential service and it is necessary for us to work, but this was rejected,” says Eli.

ARO is a democratic grassroots organisation representing informal waste pickers founded in 2018 after reclaimers demanded to be included in the waste management system.

According to the Daily Maverick, the process of  integrating reclaimers into existing waste management policies was still underway at the time of lockdown which is why their position as essential service workers was in question at the time of lockdown.

In a bid to support the heroes and their families while they are barred from work, ARO issued an urgent call to donate food and essential supplies to their organisation which will be distributed in areas spanning from Soweto to Midrand on 2 April.

A day later, Minister of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy offered her support through the provision of emergency food parcels while the application to include reclaimers in the Solidarity Response Fund was being processed.

In collaboration with the Polyco, Packaging SA, Mpact Recycling, the Paper Manufacturing Association, PETCO, The Glass Recycling Company and the two organisations representing waste reclaimers, ARO and the South African Waste Pickers Association, a voucher system has been put into place as lockdown relief for waste pickers. Reclaimers are sent electronic vouchers which they can reclaim at specified retailers.

“A total of 1,000 vouchers had been paid to individual reclaimers cell phones across the country by close of business on Thursday, 9 April. The voucher system is being used to ease the logistics of having to distribute food parcels to all provinces,” Creecy says.

But there are still many reclaimers in desperate need of food, and this need will continue until they are able to work again.

How you can help:

  • The public can contribute to ARO’s backabuddy fundraising campaign to help provide food and essentials to reclaimers and their families
  • If reclaimers are working in your area, clean and sanitise your recyclables and give them to the reclaimer.
  • Leave buckets of soapy water out so that reclaimers can wash their hands.
  • If reclaimers aren’t working in your area, but you have space on your property, clean and separate the recyclables and save them to give to reclaimers when they can work again.
  • Contact ARO at if you would like to meet with reclaimers in your area and ARO can create a resident-reclaimers separation source programme in your area.

Image credits: Supplied by ARO:  Feature image by Waldo Swiegers / others by Joppe Ruts



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