Landfill waste pickers want to be separators

About 88 000 waste pickers on South African ‘one stream’ landfills want opportunities to assist waste generators and collectors in waste separation.

Waste pickers are “not fighting for a right to access landfill sites, but to be part of waste management systems,” said SA Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) rep Simon Mbata at a workshop debate hosted by the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA) in Midrand in July 2011.

Dr Suzan Oelofse, chairman of IWMSA, said “a lot of reusable and recyclable waste enters the waste stream due to South Africa’s waste disposal strategies.

“Collectors earn up to R120 per day. Many waste pickers have found creative ways to re-use waste, like building dog kennels from wood, or potting and selling discarded plants.”

Mbata met his counterparts, informal waste pickers in Brazil, and saw how effectively they mange waste separation, recovery and recycling. He believes that household waste separation at source would raise waste management sheq practice.

The recycling industry’s Waste Management Plan (WMP) also advocates household separation, said Andrew Marthinusen of the Packaging Council of South Africa (PACSA). Marthinusen accompanied Mbata on a waste fact finding trip to Brazil.

Waste pickers scrape a living by reclaiming recyclable waste from residential, retail, industrial and landfill sites, and selling it to recycling agents at a fraction of the already low rate paid by recyclers.

Trucks and sites nut suited to separation

Sheqafrica.com reports that municipalities and other local authorities continue using large collection trucks and equipment that is suitable to one load, one stream collection and disposal.

Communities that are separating household or industrial waste, like some areas of Cape Town, have found that smaller vehicles, like light delivery vehicles and trailers, are better suited to collecting separated waste commodities, being plastics, steel cans, paper, and glass, and organic waste, leaving only ‘black bag’ waste to landfill trucks.

Large equipment, lack of municipal and private development of recycling points, vested interests of agents exploiting waste pickers, and public apathy combine to keep one stream collection and disposal running.

Some landfills have accommodated waste pickers by setting up tipping points for collection vehicles from retail sites, rich in plastics, steel cans, glass and paper, which pickers separated into skips for agents or recyclers to weigh, pay, and remove to their operations. The system worked well for everyone, especially ‘middle man’ agents, while pickers remained underpaid for lack of vehicle ownership.

Landfill picking pose sheq risks

Municipal landfill operators want to keep waste pickers off their sites for health and safety risk reasons, and to prevent slowing down of dump trucks and bulldozers in the landfill cell filling a capping process.

Frans Dekker, Tshwane metro landfill operations head, said pickers “contribute to waste reduction at the end of the waste stream, and could identify illegal dumping of hazardous or medical waste, or other crimes.”

Pickers assist public offloading waste and help collectors during strikes. “Waste pickers will always be there, and landfill sites should get their cooperation. Waste pickers should manage themselves under a representative committee, as in Tshwane metro since 2002,” Dekker said.

Interwaste MD Leon Grobbelaar discussed health and safety liabilities to landfill operators due to allowing pickers on site.

Enviro-Fill, an Interwaste subsidiary, was sued for R5-million by an informal waste picker that was injured by accident while collecting waste on a landfill that Enviro-Fill operated for a metro, despite a number of health and safety risk management measures by the contractor.

“Water separation and recycling should be done before waste reaches the landfill site,” said Grobbelaar. “Waste pickers should not find valuable resources on a landfill.”

Pickers could fulfil valuable waste management roles, and some civil bodies have given pickers long street trolleys to collect discarded resources and move their loads more safely and more effectively to recycling agents or sites. IWMSA have pledged to host workshops to organise waste picking.

Street trolleys comment

IWMSAs comments on street trolleys issues, via Dr Suzan Oelofse, chairman of IWMSA Central Branch; “IWMSA could support the idea of sponsored trolleys in principle.

“Many waste pickers use stolen supermarket trolleys, which cannot be condoned.

“Use of sponsored, custom made trolleys do assist pickers in their informal but valuable enterprise, to collect and move substantive volumes of resources that would otherwise have gone to waste and to landfill.” -comment added 2011 July 29

PHOTO; Informal street and landfill waste separators and collectors are an integral part of waste management in South Africa, presenting several safety, health, environment and empowerment challenges, and revealing that municipal waste equipment is not suited to recycling.

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Edmond Furter

Edmond Furter

Editor at Sheqafrica.com
Edmond Furter is the editor of Sheqafrica.com. He is a freelance technical journalist, and has won six journalism awards. He specialises in industrial, business, and cultural content in web, journal, and book formats.
Edmond Furter

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