There are 26,000 mobile waste pickers in South Africa who are desperate to work. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

To most people, waste-pickers or recyclables collectors are simply anonymous city dwellers, who emerge on rubbish collection day to trawl through bins picking out anything to be sold and recycled.

Many of us curse their bulky trolleys, occupying most of the road, says Clive Harding, founder of the Phahama Pedal Power Project. But, have you ever wondered why and how they do what they do, he asks.

Phahama, an organisation for the upliftment of individuals in the waste industry, has shifted the way waste pickers operate through the rollout of the project. It was launched in Johannesburg on 18 July, Nelson Mandela Day, and focuses on building tricycles.

These tricycles are loaned free of charge to homeless waste collectors who sell their goods that can be recycled by manufacturers.

Harding says that through the project, local businesses can sponsor tricycles branded with their logos and information which helps create a new and innovative form of advertising, that’s as philanthropic as it is effective.

Grassroots upliftment

Sponsoring a tricycle for the Cycle for Recycle initiative turns a waste collector into an entrepreneur on the road, Harding says. He explains that these tricycles improve a waste picker’s productivity and income, while also addressing waste management and providing advertising for businesses.

“The ‘trikeneurs’ are sourced through referrals from buy-back centres,” he says. They are supplied with uniforms, monthly stipends and a tricycle with bins to collect waste.

There are 26,000 mobile waste pickers in South Africa who are desperate to work. “Not only does this project create jobs, but also protects the environment,” Harding says.

Improving livelihoods

Waste pickers are often marginalised in society, with their work stigmatised as undignified.

“Waste pickers aren’t formalised and integrated into the waste economy and face exploitation from buy-back centres,” Harding says. “They face serious health and safety challenges. Some walk up to 40km a day and only earn an average of R300 a week.”

The project assists these individuals with self-sustaining micro-businesses and an opportunity for growth. “Not only does this employment restore dignity, it means they can support themselves and their families,” he says. “The tricycles are easier to move, have a triple breaking system and can carry up to 300kg.”

Harding also says waste collectors are held accountable, reporting back to project co-ordinators on a regular basis.

Safety in shelter

Many waste pickers are homeless, so the Phahama project has also partnered with Good Night South Africa, who create and distribute back-pack beds. Each of the beneficiaries of the project will also receive a back-pack bed.

Founder of Good Night South Africa, Iain Johnston, believes the back-packs are, for some, a life-saving form of mobile shelter that protect the human rights of people sleeping on the street.

A sustainable project

The Phahama Pedal Power Project has been rolled out in two provinces so far. In Gauteng, 12 tricycles have been distributed, and in the Western Cape, 11 tricycles. Harding said they hope to expand throughout the country. Their target is to secure 35 more tricycles by the end of July.

There are currently 20 entrepreneurs involved in the project. Eighty percent are women who are actively involved in Braamfischerville and Soweto.

Harding said about 60 families are supported through the programme, which will continue to stimulate job creation and broaden SME participation in the waste sector.

“The project has gained much momentum and many organisations and businesses like Pick n Pay have become contributors,” he says.

He adds that the project aims to grow a nationwide network that places value and emphasis on skills development and dignity through employment, while protecting the environment.

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