Sorting the Waste

© Michele Spatari / AFP

Scelo Sithole and Eva Mokoena are informal recycler - or how they are commonly named in South Africa, waste pickers - and they have being doing this job since they were kids.

Mr. Sithole - a 38 year old South African - started collecting waste in 1999, pushing his trolley in the same streets of Johannesburg he was forced to sleep in, wearing a balaclava since he was too ashamed to reveal his identity. He know proudly talks about the job that allow him to take care of his one year old daughter, earning him up to 2000 rand a month - approximately 125 euros - even if he is forced to wake up every day at 4:30 am and walk hundreds of kilometres every week.

Ms. Mokoena - a 33 years old South African - begin following her mother Eva to the Palm Springs landfill when she was just 11, just as her mother who started collecting waste at the age of 10. She still works in the same landfill site an hour away from Johannesburg CBD, along with her mother, her brother and several cousins, earning up to 180R - approximately 11 euros - a week. Despite thugs and the fear of getting tuberculosis, Ms. Mokoena is trying to organise and unionise Palm Spring landfill’s recyclers.

A report commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs estimated that there are 62,147 informal recyclers in South Africa, of whom about 25,467 operate at curb-side as trolley-pushers, with the remainder operating at landfill sites. Their contribute saves municipalities in the country up to R750-million in landfill airspace each year, according to research by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).