According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in 2014 waste pickers saved the country between R310m and R750m in terms of landfill space.
Working with waste is not an easy job. In addition to low, unstable incomes and poor working conditions, waste pickers (also known as micro collectors) are often outcast from society. Working with waste has long been considered ‘dirty work’ in South Africa; however, through the tyre recycling initiative developed by REDISA (Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa), this is changing.
Each year, the country produces roughly 170 000 tonnes of tyre waste which needs to be re-purposed rather than dumped or illegally burnt. REDISA plans to collect and reprocess all waste tyres by 2017. In the past, however, only 4% of this waste was being recycled and processed and currently 70% of waste tyres are being dealt with. A number of individuals are making money through their involvement in the logistics chain that REDISA has developed to ensure the environmental damage caused by waste tyres is eliminated.
Mfana Mthembu, 52, is one of the micro collectors in Orange Farm who has found an opportunity from collecting waste tyres. Since becoming a micro collector Mafana has recruited a few of his community members and they have registered their co-operative, Mbanjwa Multi-Purpose Co-Operative Limited. The co-operative has grown and now employs seven people.
Mfana says, “I am very happy about the opportunity I have found, especially as I am getting older and need to find something to sustain me and my family in my old age. My life has changed for the better as I now have an income that I can rely on and can also put away for my children.” Mfana says he hopes to continue to grow the co-operative and contribute to the city’s growing waste management system.
Mfana is also responsible for co-ordinating one of the REDISA micro collector drop-off containers in his community. The drop-off container is used to store the tyres collected, before they are transported to a nearby depot or a recycling plant. In addition, he is going through a training programme organised by REDISA which focuses on developing the skills he needs to run and manage a successful business.
In terms of the challenges he has experienced, Mfana says, “Many people do not understand the role that micro collectors play and they view us as a nuisance when we are actually contributing to saving the economy millions. It is not an easy job but I would encourage young people who are looking to earn an honest living and run their own businesses to explore the opportunity provided by the REDISA micro collector programme.”
REDISA Director, Stacey Davidson says, “We believe that the waste management industry offers individuals a means to make a living, regardless of age, level of education or skills set, and it will especially assist us in dealing with the challenge of low-skilled unemployment in the country. It is imperative that micro collectors be considered and included in future waste management plans and that they are given the security and recognition they deserve for the role they play in our economy. Through our micro collector programme we are working on formalising the industry and providing the micro collectors with the support and training they need.”