The invisible salvagers

The clack-clack-clack of their carts is the soundtrack to early mornings in most of SA’s suburbs on refuse removal day.

11.9.2019

SPONSORED| While they operate on the fringes of society, these men and women who go through our rubbish bins are at the frontline of cleaning our cities and saving our planet. Yvonne Grimbeek reports

The clack-clack-clack of their carts is the soundtrack to early mornings in most of SA’s suburbs on refuse removal day.

A human geographer at the University of the Witwatersrand, Samson has been working with reclaimers for more than 10 years, and is passionate about acknowledging their contribution to our economy and environment.

“They are the missing link in the recycling economy.”

Research by the CSIR demonstrates that reclaimers collect between 80% and 90% of all the packaging and paper collected for recycling in the country, and, if they stopped collecting, the recycling industry in South Africa would grind to a halt.

“We look down on them and stigmatise them because they work with trash and get dirty, but they are doing our dirty work for us. We are the ones who are dirty and crazy, not them, because we are throwing away valuable materials and burying them in garbage.”

“Reclaimers have sorting areas where they live or in parks. This is where they sort and store what they have reclaimed for as long as possible. They then try to sell the recyclables when they have a significant pile of material. They sell the material at different venues, depending on the price they are offered by recycling companies. They often walk long distances just to get a good price for their materials,” she says.

“As government and industries are beginning to recognise the importance of reclaimers, they need to find ways of working with them,” says Samson.

“Recycling is not the solution to the environmental crisis – we also need to dramatically transform production and consumption, and decrease usage. In the meantime, we have to ensure that reclaimers, as the backbone of the industry, have security in work and income as we shift to a more environmentally sustainable and just economy.”

Read more: City Press

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