SUNConferences, 29th Annual Conference of SAIIE

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Dieter Hartmann, Teresa Hattingh, N R Mokoena

Last modified: 2018-10-15


Informal waste collection is a sophisticated network of waste collectors, scavengers, sorters and transporters.  This system sources waste to recycling companies in exchange for money. Millions of people make a living as waste pickers. Their work contributes positively toward the economy, the environment and public health. Informal waste collection is well described in many countries, however, little information on the commercial and spatial structure exists for South African operations.
This study explored the operations of informal waste collection in Bethlehem in the Free State and Johannesburg in Gauteng, with 20 and 40 informal participants respectively. Data were collected through interviews, group discussions and participant and direct observations.  
Informal waste pickers collect, sort, transport and sell recyclables to registered and privately-owned companies in exchange for money. The most common materials collected are white paper, plastic bottles and aluminium cans. Informal waste collectors in Bethlehem and Johannesburg collect their recyclables from the streets, dumpsites, landfill sites, shops, rubbish bins and municipal containers. Most informal waste pickers are male. Waste pickers use trolleys and wheeled bins as transport. Informal waste collectors usually collect recyclables at proximity to where they live and trade their recyclables at the nearest formal recycling company. 
Informal workers in Johannesburg work longer hours a day compared to those in Bethlehem, but those in Bethlehem earn more money due to lower competition.

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