Pilot project benefits waste pickers and residents

Zoë Postman

A pilot project called “recycling with reclaimers” aims to bring residents and reclaimers together, instead of residents recycling through private companies contracted by the City of Johannesburg.

  Launched on Monday, the initiative partners residents of Brixton and Auckland Park with African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) and Unilever.

  “Recycling with reclaimers brings residents and reclaimers together to protect the environment, increase reclaimers’ incomes and provide reclaimers with job security. It is also a way to create a better kind of city where different kinds of people get to know each other, value and support each other,” reads the explanatory note.

  According to Luyanda Hlatshwayo, a reclaimer with ARO, residents will be given a clear plastic bag to put their recyclables materials in; including paper, cans, juice and milk cartons, polystyrene, cardboard and steel.

  On the day before the usual municipal collection, 50 reclaimers dressed in green uniforms and carrying ID cards collect the bags and give the residents a new recycling bag for the following week.

  The bag of recyclable material will be weighed and reclaimers paid a top up fee of 50c per kilogram over and above what they receive for the recyclable materials when they take them to one of the city’s buy-back centres.

  Sophia Welz of the Brixton Community Forum said the the pilot project is to develop an implementable model that other areas could use in the future. “The community and ARO will be recording progress and failures to see how it can be improved.”

  A year and a half ago a visiting academic introduced Welz to an organisation that worked with reclaimers. Shortly after that Welz invited reclaimers from ARO to a Brixton park clean up, and since then they have been looking for new ways to collaborate.

  Melanie Samson, a researcher at Wits who works with reclaimers, said reclaimers collect up to 90% of recyclable materials from households. Depending on how the landfill space is valued, reclaimers are estimated to save municipalities up to R750 million a year in landfill space by diverting recyclables away from landfills.

  “But reclaimers do not get paid a service fee for their work and are often in competition with private waste companies that have more resources,” she said.

  ARO chairperson Eli Kodisang said Unilever agreed to sponsor the pilot project, including a service fee for reclaimers. “The service fee of 50c per kilogramme is a balance between making it worthwhile for the reclaimers and still making it financially viable for the City should it decide to implement the model.

  Kodisang said the aim is to get the City to use some of the money that reclaimers saved it to pay the reclaimers a service fee which would help stabilise income for the reclaimers because the prices of materials often fluctuate depending on the time of the year.

  “These are black men and women who have created this system that sustains their livelihoods because they have no other choice. They save the municipalities a lot of money but the City would rather pay private companies to do the work that reclaimers do,” said Kodisang.

  The current system is not benefiting anyone because reclaimers end up sleeping in parks, the recycling companies do not get the materials, and the City ends up spending money on companies that do not provide the service, he said.

  Another benefit of the project is to allow reclaimers and residents to form relationships. “We show the residents that reclaimers are not looking for charity but are participating in this profession and need to be recognised and paid accordingly,” said Kodisang. GroundUp

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