Environment Innovative pilot programme aids informal recycling sector reeling from lockdown

Innovative pilot programme aids informal recycling sector reeling from lockdown

African Reclaimers Organisation members (from left) Eva Mokoena and Luyanda Hlatshwayo hand over recycling bins to Joburg’s Bordeaux South suburb in early March 2020.

Informal reclaimers are returning to work after months of forced quarantine, with a recycling pilot programme in Joburg delivering welcome results to a sector severely knocked by the coronavirus lockdown.

The programme has not only boosted the city’s recycling rates and the number of households which actively recycle, but created much-needed income  in the informal sector.

Supported by organisations including the national body for PET plastic bottle recycling, PETCO, and the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), work on a pilot began in earnest in mid-2019.

It started in Auckland Park and Brixton, with more areas expected to follow on the back of the project’s success.

The relationship-building initiative followed  reclaimers’ reports that they were often harassed, ignored and misunderstood by residents.

You might only see a bag of bottles, but collectors see it as a means of feeding their families. Collectors are able to…

Posted by PETCO, the South African PET Plastic Recycling Company on Wednesday, 10 June 2020



It began with a survey to identify the working standards of the city’s informal recycling collectors – called “reclaimers” for their work to reclaim the value of items which would otherwise end up in landfills.

Before the survey PETCO donated 100,000 clear plastic recycling collection bags – made from 100% recycled material – to ARO members to distribute to residents in their collection areas.

Among the findings, the survey noted that 66% of reclaimers polled said providing households with bags for recyclables increased the number of agreements they had with residents to save recyclable materials for them.

Further solidifying their relationship with residents was a donation  in March of 400 wheelie bins by Safripol – a manufacturer of high-density polyethylene and polypropylene plastic – which reclaimers in Bordeaux handed over to residents there.

“These reclaimers are entrepreneurs and extremely proud of the work they do,” says Belinda Booker, PETCO’s collections and training project manager.

“They are up at 3am 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.”

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

Residents made a tea station for reclaimers in Bordeaux. Thank you! #care #lockdownsa #backatwork @ Bordeaux, Gauteng

Posted by African Reclaimers Organisation on Tuesday, 12 May 2020


“Now we have an easy way to do this while supporting industrious people who help our environment,”  Schaerer said, adding that information about the programme was shared via WhatsApp, pamphlets and e-mail newsletters.

“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 their personal stories.”

According to David Drew, a board director of PETCO, the pilot programme also meant the materials collected were “cleaner and, as a result, easier to recycle”.

“Separation in the home is something everyone can do. This is an organic African solution and deserves our support,” Drew says.

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