Waste pickers scavenge through rubbish at Roundhill dumpsite in Berlin in the Eastern Cape. The South African government has convened the fifth annual Waste Management Khoro, bringing together all the players in the waste-management value chain, says the writer. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH
Waste pickers scavenge through rubbish at Roundhill dumpsite in Berlin in the Eastern Cape. The South African government has convened the fifth annual Waste Management Khoro, bringing together all the players in the waste-management value chain, says the writer. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

TRASHBACK, a nonprofit organisation that creates microenterprises for waste collectors, is sceptical of the Department of Environmental Affairs’ plan to integrate SA’s waste pickers into the country’s municipal waste management programme.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said earlier in May that the department felt that waste management at municipal level was an issue, and was looking at integrating waste pickers into the municipal system to address the problem.

SA has 62,147 registered waste pickers who remove recyclable material from landfill sites, according to Molewa, who was speaking during a debate on her department’s budget.

She said the department was planning to help scale up waste recycling enterprises through a recycling enterprise support programme, which would provide the primary capital set-up costs for emerging entrepreneurs. There were also plans for the management and disbursement of funds through a waste management bureau that would be fully operational in 2016.

However, Trashback spokeswoman Lisa Illingworth said while the department’s plans were well-intended, they might not work because "they are trying to re-invent the wheel". Also at issue was whether the department would be able to incorporate all the waste pickers.

Illingworth said the department had not sufficiently engaged with the waste pickers, many of whom did not have access to information or communication devices.

"The department needs to be on the ground and get the buy in of the waste pickers … but I am sceptical as to whether they will respond to their (the waste pickers) needs," said Illingworth.

Explaining how Trashback — which operates in SA from Johannesburg and Cape Town — works, Illingworth said the company sought to uplift the poor by making it easier for "wastepreneurs" to sell their recyclable material.

The wastepreneurs travel up to 20km per day with a load of almost 40kg stacked on their trollies. On a good day, they could earn up to R200.

The company uses a biometric fingerprint identification system that links to a basic feature phone, which is provided, to ensure cashless payment using mobile technology.

Illingworth said Trashback also aims to shorten the distance between collection and drop off, as well as provide showers and storage facilities for wastepreneurs.

"The wastepreneur, while going about his daily earning activity, is often (the) subject of prejudice from those he is trying to serve. He is considered a social flea and is harassed by law enforcement and building security alike because he is seen to bring with him the other sicknesses that plague inner city life…. Trashback aims to provide a sense of dignity back to those that should be afforded it but by circumstance are left to fend for themselves," said Illingworth.

Environmental Affairs department spokesman Albi Modise said on Friday  the Department was engaging waste pickers on the ground to get their perspective. He said engagement were taking place through the South African Waste Pickers Association and various other NGOs.

“The promotion and sharing of various integration models has commenced. The development of the guidelines is underway and involves research work in establishing current practices and assessing pros and cons of various integration models. Some municipalities are currently implementing various approaches and adaptation based on experience and lessons from these implementation approaches,” said Modise.