Waste pickers make the job of recycling easier

For most of us, rubbish has been something that is out-of-sight, out-of-mind. We rarely think of what happens after rubbish is collected from outside our homes or businesses. We pay the local council to take our waste away, and once they do, the waste becomes their responsibility and not ours. Most households are allocated one wheelie bin of waste (remember when it was only a black bin), but with its restaurant, Tsitsi’s produces five wheelie bins of waste a week. Ordinarily, this garbage would be hauled away and taken to a municipal landfill, but in the last decade or so there’s been a rethinking growing realization that waste that is recyclable has value. The horror – for years we’ve actually been burying money!

Enter informal waste pickers – people who are willing to dig through other people’s waste to take out what is reusable, recyclable and repairable. They sell this waste to scrap dealers or recyclers and in this way the waste pickers earn an income. There are two types of waste pickers – those that pick out valuable waste from wheelie bins on garbage-collecting days and those who pick out waste from landfill sites. Whichever way it is done, it is a dirty job, but we should be thankful because waste pickers actually do us a favour by collecting our recyclable waste. And picking waste from landfill sites are a way for some waste pickers to earn a living, it is not safe for them to do so and it is better to ensure that valuable waste is collected before it gets to a landfill.

Street waste picker. Image courtesy of ENCA/REDISA

 

There are things we can do to make waste pickers’ work easier. Tsitsi’s sometimes keeps aside its recyclable waste for waste pickers to collect, and sometimes they don’t. This has to be done consistently. An organised system can be set up to separate different types of waste. It doesn’t have to be complicated and can be as simple as bins or crates in a sorting area. In this way, it is easy for a waste picker who specializes in glass for example to collect only glass. There are many types of recyclable waste and in the end it may be simpler for Tsitsi’s to separate waste into three types:

  1. Organic waste from the kitchens and food scraps from the restaurant: Keeping organic waste separate from other waste also means that other waste doesn’t get as wet and unpleasant. Normally we would recommend that this waste be composted for use in the garden but Tsiti’s does not have a garden but owner, Goitse, does much of the food preparation at her own home so she can set up a composting system there. organicwaste
  2. Recyclable waste: There’s a long list of waste produced at Tsitsi’s that can be recycled. It is very important here to talk to neighbourhood waste pickers and reach an agreement with them about what they collect and what system would work for both them and you. Also, there are specialist companies that collect recyclable waste on a weekly basis and Tsitsi’s can also contract one of these companies if the costs are affordable.recyclables
  3. Non-recyclable waste: This is all the remaining waste that waste pickers do not want to collect, waste that cannot be reused and waste that does not need to be disposed of in a special way like batteries and lightbulbs.

At the end of this exercise, Tsitsi’s should have fewer than five wheelie bins of waste to be collected by the municipality to go to the landfill and more to be collected by waste pickers for recycling. There are many things that Tsitsi’s can do so that fewer than five wheelie bins of waste are produced in the first place. Read about what Palesa Guesthouse is doing to reduce the amount of waste created.

We used a technical sheet when we first visited Tsitsi’s B&B, Pub and Restaurant which you can view here.

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