The pilot project, titled ‘Building an Inclusive Circular Economy: Recycling with Reclaimers in Johannesburg’, is a joint initiative of the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), Unilever, and the University of the Witwatersrand. Additional support and sponsorship have been received from PETCO, POLYCO, The Glass Recycling Company, Fibre Circle, Packaging SA, Auckland Park Residents Association, and the Brixton Community Forum.
The relationship-building initiative follows in the wake of reclaimers’ reports that they are often harassed, ignored and misunderstood by residents.
It began with a survey of 50 reclaimers participating in the pilot to identify the working standards of the city’s informal recycling collectors.
The survey formed part of a baseline study – undertaken from June to November 2019 by Social Survey Africa – to establish impact measures for the pilot project, which aims to test a new approach to reclaimer integration and separating recyclables at household level in which reclaimers are responsible for providing a separation service and are paid for doing so.
Highlights from the study, noted by Wits University academic, Melanie Samson, included that over 90% of residents believed reclaimers should be allowed to collect recyclables and more than 80% believed reclaimers should be paid for their work. Plastic bottles were noted as most important to reclaimers but were the items least separated out by residents. 96% of reclaimers reported their work as a full-time vocation, and 30% noted weekly earnings of between R400 and R500.
Before the survey, PETCO donated 100 000 clear plastic recycling collection bags, made from 100% recycled content, to ARO members to distribute to residents in their collection areas. The survey noted that 66% of reclaimers reported that providing households with clear plastic bags for recyclables increased the number of agreements with residents to save recyclable materials for them.
The ARO supported the pilot project through an awareness and information campaign consisting of workshops and clean-up activations at schools, universities and community events. ARO organiser, Eli Kodisang, reaffirmed the survey’s findings that having a personal relationship with reclaimers made residents more willing to separate their materials, as they understood the difference it makes to the daily life of the reclaimers and their families.
David Drew, a board director of PETCO representing brand owners, added that the pilot programme also resulted in the collection of cleaner and easier to recycle materials. ‘Separation in the home is something everyone can do. This organic African solution deserves our support.’