Many informal workers around South Africa are in dire straits due to not being able to work or trade because of the national lockdown.
Informal waste reclaimers are among this group but sadly many of these often underestimated and “invisible workers”, who are an important link in the recycling chain, are finding themselves out of pocket and without any way to provide for their families.
Thankfully a donation of food vouchers is helping to ease the burden for 240 reclaimers and their families in Sasolburg during the Covid-19 lockdown period.
The recipients are landfill pickers, Sasolburg street pickers and members of the Ikageng Ditamating Co-operative who, before the lockdown, worked at the Vaalpark landfill site, collecting recyclables from households in the area.
They were responsible for sorting recyclable materials, baling them and then selling them to recyclers who re-process the materials. The vouchers were donated by national PET plastic recycling body PETCO and the South African Waste Pickers Association.
“Due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the exclusion of recycling as an essential service for health and safety reasons, these co-operative members and many other reclaimers in the vicinity are experiencing extreme hardship with no source of income.” PETCO CEO Cheri Scholtz says.
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The co-operative has also been instrumental in assisting fellow reclaimers in forming and registering their own co-operatives, and working with them to sort recyclables at the Vaalpark landfill.
“This donation is one of many that industry is co-ordinating under the umbrella of Packaging South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs.”Scholtz says.
The Vaalpark separation-at-source recycling project – where recyclable materials are amassed from almost 3,000 households around the Vaalpark residential area – was launched in 2014 with involvement from many players in the paper and packaging industry and local government, as well as the South African Waste Pickers Association.
“The reclaimers have built strong relationships with the households and have an estimated 2,800 households who voluntarily participate in their recycling programme by either putting their bins out on designated days or dropping recyclables as well as white goods – which they repair and sell off or sponsor to poor people in the community – at the recycling site.” Scholtz says.
Waste Pickers Association chairman Simon Mbatha says the donations will help alleviate some of the hardships being experienced by the reclaimers.
“I believe working together we can all find a solution for a waste management system in the country that will alleviate poverty for all the people who work in the waste value chain.”Mbatha says.