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The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), together with sector role players, has developed guidelines for how municipalities can formally integrate waste pickers.

Waste pickers collect between 80% and 90% of all of the post-consumer packaging and paper recycled in South Africa and save municipalities up to R750 million a year in landfill airspace. The DEA refers to these waste pickers as the ‘missing link’, noting the important role they play in achieving a recycling rate for South Africa that is equal to many European countries.

The National Waste Pickers Integration Workshop held in Pretoria last week provided insight into waste pickers, their work and their contribution in the waste management sector. It also explored the draft national guidelines on waste picker integration. The guidelines explain what waste picker integration will entail and present different approaches to integration, while also providing practical guidance to municipalities and industry on how to integrate waste pickers.

It is believed that the integration of waste could allow them access to more opportunities and resources, while also addressing the health and safety issues they face. Further, it is hoped that integration will improve the conditions, incomes and positions of waste pickers in the value chain as the recycling economy is expanded.

However, Johannesburg-based waste picker Luyanda Hlatshwayo told GroundUp that although waste pickers had contributed extensively to the formulation of the guidelines, he was sceptical about their implementation.

“These plans and policies always happen at a national level, but the officials responsible for the direct implementation do the opposite … We don’t have faith that much will change for the waste pickers on the ground, and even if it does, it will take a very long time,” he said.

The DEA is expected to release these guidelines soon, but it will be up to municipalities to implement these based on their own models.

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