THOSE suburban householders who’ve experienced their recycling collection services being summarily curtailed are well aware that waste reclamation is not regarded as an essential service, as defined by government regulations.
However, this matter is considerably more serious than a niggling inconvenience to a small minority of South Africans. For countless more people, it’s a real disaster – our nation’s waste reclaimers, for instance, are facing extreme hardship as their incomes dry up.
Plastics|SA points out that South Africa has close to 60 000 waste pickers who play a pivotal role in the country’s waste management industry. As part of the country’s informal waste sector, they help recover recyclables from household waste streams, as well
as waste materials sent to landfill sites. With the country in national lockdown, they’ve unexpectedly found themselves unable to put food on the table.
‘It’s clear that South Africa not only faces a global health pandemic but increasingly the possibility of a humanitarian crisis,’ notes Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics|SA.
Despite the fact that many in the plastics sector are suffering financial losses, as they’ve either closed down or greatly reduced their operations, Plastics|SA, along with plastics and packaging Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), have rallied together to donate funds in response to a request made by Packaging SA.
Packaging SA’s executive director, Shabeer Jhetam, takes up the story. ‘We were approached by Barbara Creecy, Minister of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, to join in a programme to support waste pickers, by giving them food vouchers to help them through the crisis,’ he reports.
Working in close partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries (DEFF), and associations representing waste pickers/reclaimers – the South African Waste Pickers Association and African Reclaimers Organisation – were a number of PROs – some R780 000 has been raised. These funds will assist almost 4 000 pickers who will receive vouchers for essential food.
As Shabeer points out, it’s important to note that these funds are not government controlled but managed by Packaging SA for payment directly to pickers, and we’ve ensured vouchers are delivered electronically to their mobile phones for redemption at major retailers.
In hard times, PROs provide valuable support
One of the PROs behind the scheme was Polyco, the Polyolefin Responsibility Organisation.
‘We felt deeply affected by the dire circumstances faced by these waste reclaimers. Because they are not incorporated into the country’s formal waste economy, they tend to lead a hand-to-mouth existence, which means their income and food supply is directly linked to the quantity of recyclables they collect daily,’ explains Polyco’s CEO, Mandy Naudé.
PETCO’s CEO, Cheri Scholtz, also highlights the important role played by reclaimers in the recovery of PET bottles and other recyclables. This provides a lifeline for reclaimers as they’re paid on a daily basis for their deliveries to buy-back centres and reprocessors.
‘In the current situation, recycling is not an essential service and the loss of access to collection has created great hardship for reclaimers,’ Cheri stresses.
Other supporters include the Polystyrene Association of SA and the Southern African Vinyls Association, whose CEO, Adri Spangenberg, remarks: ‘Waste pickers make valuable resources available for reintroduction into the economy, while saving landfill space. In some instances, informal waste reclaimers are the only people recovering recyclables in municipalities without a two-bin collection system for separation at source. We have a responsibility to support them in these trying times; they are in desperate need to feed their families.’
The South African Plastics Recycling Organisation’s chairman, Johann Conradie, also notes that the collection of plastics for recycling is a lifeline for informal waste reclaimers. ‘At a time when their very livelihood is threatened, the least we can do is to ensure collectors have food on the table,’ he comments.
‘Aside from supporting their families, informal waste reclaimers provide valuable feedstock to buyback centres and recycling plants. They form the backbone of our recycling economy and enable us to achieve exceptional recycling rates!’ he adds.
‘The current Covid-19 crisis has left no sector or industry untouched. Despite facing their own financial and operational hardships, I commend our PROs, including The Glass Recycling Company, METPAC-SA and Fibre Circle, and every member and individual company who stepped up to the plate without a moment’s hesitation. Irrespective of the amount, every donation made to the waste pickers’ fund has helped to make a difference in somebody’s life. Helping one person might not change the world, but it changes the world for one person,’ comments Plastics|SA’s Anton Hanekom.
‘Recognising waste pickers’ important work, the plastics and packaging industry will do its best to offer them ongoing support during this difficult time. As there’s no certainty when the lockdown will end, we challenge everybody involved in the waste management sector to rally with us, by making tax deductible financial contributions to lighten waste pickers’ burden. Once lockdown restrictions ease, we will do everything in our power to get the recycling industry operating at full capacity as quickly as possible,’ says Anton.
Ed’s note: Donations can be made to the PAMDEV NPC (t/a Fibre Circle) account at Standard Bank Hillcrest, branch code 005726, account number 250791749 (reference company name & food voucher).
To obtain a tax certificate, email company details and proof of payment to email@example.com.
Vaalpark reclaimers’ lockdown plight eased
Deputy Minister of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, Maggie Sotyu (left), oversees the distribution of food vouchers to Vaalpark residents.
The Covid-19 lockdown plight of reclaimers in Sasolburg’s Vaalpark has been eased thanks to donations of food vouchers by PETCO and the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA).
Recipients belong to the Ikageng Ditamating Co-operative who prior to the lockdown collected recyclables at the Vaalpark landfill site. They were responsible for sorting and baling recyclables, then selling them to recyclers for reprocessing.
‘Owing to the lockdown and the exclusion of recycling as an essential service for health and safety reasons, these co-operative members and many other reclaimers in the vicinity are experiencing extreme hardship with no source of income,’ explains PETCO CEO, Cheri Scholtz.
‘This donation (made on April 9) is one of many being co-ordinated under the umbrella of Packaging SA and DEFF,’ Cheri adds.
SAWPA chairman, Simon Mbatha, confirms that such donations will help alleviate some of the hardships being experienced by reclaimers.
‘I believe by working together we can find solutions that will alleviate poverty for those working in the waste value chain,’ he comments