Compulsory recycling will turn residents, waste pickers into each other’s sidekicks

Recycling will be made compulsory for all Johannesburg households from July 1. It will serve to regulate the industry while raising awareness about plastic pollution.

Most Johannesburg residents are greeted with the familiar sight of a waste picker fearlessly skating on a trolley every morning. Now that recycling will be made compulsory for households in the City from July 1, many have questioned the role of waste pickers.

However, MEC for environment and infrastructure services Nico de Jager already has a solution for this – and it involves making waste pickers more relevant in the waste collection industry.

Waste pickers, or informal waste collectors, are responsible for 10% of Johannesburg’s waste. The rest of our rubbish still ends up on landfill sites across the city.

With many members of the community working as recyclers, Nhlanhla is looking towards starting an NPO on the premises to provide basic service delivery and recycling services in the future and a possible materials recovery facility. Many of the materials collected for recycling were trashed or stolen during the eviction. Community members are rebuilding their stocks, which are collected from all across the city. Picture: Michel Bega

READ MORE: Recycling to become mandatory in Joburg starting July 1

Since waste pickers do a lot in terms of recycling the city’s waste, De Jager explained his office was currently looking at upgrading Joburg’s dumpsites to be able to accommodate waste pickers’ trolleys to be stored at night.

He explained that, to begin collecting early and to avoid being robbed, waste pickers often slept along riverbeds.

This poses a danger to themselves, as criminals have caught on to this. “If we can safeguard waste pickers so they can go home to their families at night, we will do so,” De Jager said.

He added his department was also looking at involving stakeholders to procure reflective clothing for waste pickers, to make them more visible at night and early in the morning.

De Jager emphasised the important role that waste pickers played in the new recycling legislation. He added his department had created a forum with waste pickers to discuss any issues, and that residents recycling would actually make the lives of waste pickers much easier. “Instead of rummaging through all your rubbish and making a mess on the street, recycling means that waste pickers can grab one bag.”

“The work that waste pickers do is unbelievable, but we need to find a way of cooperating with them.”

Penalties for noncompliance

He also explained that the City did not plan to penalise every household that does not recycle, and that the mandatory recycling legislation would be rolled out in phases.

“When we enter into the first phase [July 1], we will use our SMMEs and contractors to phase in an education programme. We need to encourage households to separate glass, plastic bottles, cans and paper.

“We are also in the process of writing bylaws and policies, and in the next financial year, we will start introducing penalties for those who do not comply. But at some point, residents will have to recycle,” De Jager explained.

“We are leaving future generations with something to build on, and to know that in our time, we were proactive in trying to curb pollution. If you can’t reuse it, refuse it. The world must begin instilling the importance of being aware of single-use plastic pollution. We have to be responsible, and this will only work if residents cooperate,” De Jager concluded.

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