Reclaimers programme bears fruit

Marleny Arnoldi

A pilot programme jointly executed by recycling organisations, fast-moving consumer goods company Unilever and Wits University has started integrating individual waste reclaimers into the circular economy of the city.

  It is the first project in South Africa to pilot paying reclaimers for the collection service they provide.

Data shared by the South African Polyethylene Terephthalate Recycling Company (Petco) shows how the programme has boosted the city’s recycling rates and the number of households that actively recycle, while creating much-needed income opportunities in the informal sector.

  The Building an Inclusive Circular Economy: Recycling with Reclaimers in Johannesburg, programme started in mid-2019, in partnership with the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO).

  The project started in Auckland Park and Brixton, with more areas to follow. The programme follows after years of reclaimers’ reports that they are often harassed, ignored and misunderstood by residents.

  The programme started with Petco donating 100 000 clear plastic recycling collection bags, made from recycled content, to ARO members, which distributed the bags to residents in their collection areas.

  The programme followed with a survey of 50 reclaimers working in those two suburbs to identify the working standards of the city’s waste reclaimers. 

In the survey, 66% of reclaimers cited that by providing households with clear plastic bags for recyclables, it increased the number of agreements they reached with residents to save recyclable materials for them.

  Further solidifying the reclaimer-resident relationship was a donation earlier in March this year of 400 recycling wheelie bins by Safripol, a manufacturer of high-density polyethylene and polypropylene plastic; which reclaimers in Bordeaux handed over to residents there.

  Petco’s collections and training project manager Belinda Booker says the reclaimers are entrepreneurs and proud of the work they do.

  “They are up at 03:00 and walk long distances to collect recyclables. Not having to scratch through bags of general waste means they can collect more and earn more, with dignity,” Booker says. 

  Resident Angela Schaerer, who has been mobilising members of the Bordeaux South Residents Association, says many residents were not separating materials or recycling materials before the partnership with the reclaimers was established.

  “Now we have an easy way to do this, while supporting people who help our environment.  Information about the programme was shared through WhatsApp, pamphlets and email newsletters; and residents were seeing the benefits of a cleaner suburb as a result of the initiative. Previously, residents tended to ignore or harass reclaimers. Now people greet reclaimers, separate materials for them, provide refreshments and take time to learn more about their work and personal stories,” says Schaerer.

  Since last year, ARO embarked on an awareness campaign in support of the recyclables separation programme, with workshops and clean-up activations at schools, universities and community events.

  “Having a personal relationship with reclaimers makes residents more willing to separate their materials, as they understand the difference it makes to the daily life of the reclaimer and her or his family,” ARO organiser Eli Kodisang says.

  Petco director David Drew says the pilot programme also resulted in the materials collected being cleaner and, as a result, easier to recycle. Creamer Media 

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