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Integrating informal waste pickers into the economy

CSIR waste experts are investigating ways in which informal waste pickers – individuals Informal waste pickers pick through waste, searching for valuable recyclables.picking through bin bags at kerbside, recovering valuable recyclables – can be integrated into the South African waste and recycling economy, particularly when a mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is implemented for certain waste streams.

 

“The intention with the planned implementation of EPR in South Africa is to move away from separate service and value chains towards a more integrated service-value chain that will result in increased recovery of recyclables,” said Prof Linda Godfrey, lead CSIR researcher on the study.

 

The informal sector is active in recovering valuable post-consumer recyclables from South Africa’s service-chain, having saved the country as much as R750 million in landfill airspace in 2014. “This saving was at little to no cost to municipalities,” added Godfrey.

 

South Africa already has an EPR in place for waste tyres, with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) having recently gazetted its intention to call for EPR in paper and packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment and lighting. An EPR system seeks to shift the financial and operational responsibility for the management of certain waste streams from municipalities to producers. Godfrey emphasised that the existing active, but marginalised, informal sector must be taken into consideration when implementing EPR schemes. “Implementing an EPR has the potential to compromise the livelihoods of an estimated 60 000 – 90 000 pickers if they are ignored in the design of the EPR schemes. Furthermore, exclusion can result in later conflict between the informal and formal sectors and possible ‘sabotage’ of formal collection and sorting systems,” explains Godfrey.

 

Implementing EPR has the potential to compromise the livelihoods of an estimated 60 000 – 90 000 pickers, if they are ignored in the design of the EPR schemes

The CSIR, together with its partners DEA, Amalgamated Beverage Industries (ABI), GreenCape and the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA), convened two workshops in 2015 that sought to explore current views on the integration of the informal sector into the waste and recycling economy in South Africa. Participants, who included representatives from municipalities, private business, government, academia and NGOs, were invited to respond to a series of questions relating to, amongst others, the role of the informal sector, cooperatives and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in municipal solid waste (MSW) management. In addition, respondents were asked to provide their opinions on how South Africa could proactively integrate the informal sector, SMEs and cooperatives into MSW management. The results showed a strong support for and recognition of the informal sector in MSW management and the recovery of recyclables.

Recent research by the CSIR’s waste for development experts reveals that the formalisation of pickers into cooperatives and SMEs is currently not creating sustainable jobs in South Africa, with an estimated cooperative failure rate of 91.8%. "This means that an estimated nine out of every 10 waste and recycling cooperatives started in South Africa fail for numerous reasons", explains Godfrey.

 

In terms of integration models, four scenarios emerged that need to be considered by government and product responsibility organisations, in moving forward:

(i) The informal sector is utilised in its current format, as a largely marginalised and unregulated community, recovering value at little to no cost to the value chain;
(ii) The informal sector is integrated into recycling programmes, with some level of regulation and monitoring, as well as with increased support from business and industry;
(iii) Government and business drive to formalise the informal sector through the establishment of cooperatives and SMEs; and
(iv) The formal waste and recycling sector drive a labour intensive process, based on an employment model of absorbing the informal sector.

 

The discussions with stakeholders highlighted some of the issues facing the integration of the informal waste sector. “These issues make the integration of the informal recycling sector a particularly sensitive one in South Africa. However, the value that the sector brings to South Africa’s waste and recycling economy cannot be underestimated,” concluded Prof Godfrey.

A comprehensive report on the results from the study can be found here.

Source: http://www.csir.co.za

 

 

 

 

 

 

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