Even though South Africa has few official programmes to collect recyclables, it has recycling rates for some products that are as high as European countries. This is because decades ago, waste pickers (who are also known as reclaimers) created a very effective ‘separation outside source’ system to collect and sell recyclables that they salvage from landfills, public spaces, and rubbish bins. They did this work for free, saving municipalities and industry hundreds of millions of rand in collection fees, transport costs, and landfill airspace.

Despite these contributions, reclaimers were harassed, stigmatized, criminalized, and excluded from legislation on waste management and recycling. However, this is finally beginning to change.

In 2020, the South African government released the Waste Picker Integration Guideline for South Africa. It also adopted the 2020 National Waste Management Strategy, which requires municipalities to implement waste picker integration, and the Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations (updated in 2021) that require industry to pay reclaimers registered on the South Africa Waste Picker Registration System a fee for the environmental and collection services that they provide.

The Reclaim, Revalue, Reframe project

Project objective

Waste picker integration is now firmly on the national policy agenda in South Africa. But as it is so new, there is a need to build capacity to make integration a reality. This was the primary objective of the Reclaim, Revalue, Reframe Project.

About the project

The Reclaim, Revalue, Reframe Project was Output 2 of a broader research programme funded by the Government of Japan via UNIDO that focused on “Supporting the transition from conventional plastics to more environmentally sustainable alternatives”. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) led the main project. Professor Melanie Samson (initially from the University of the Witwatersrand and subsequently from the University of Johannesburg) led Output 2, which focused on training and capacity building for waste picker integration. This was a continuation of her previous work as the facilitator of the participatory stakeholder process to develop the Waste Picker Integration Guideline for South Africa, of which she is the primary author.

Project activities

The project ran from 2020 – 2022 and conducted five key activities:

  1. researching and writing a “Waste Picker Training and Capacity Building Status Quo Report”
  2. designing capacity building activities
  3. conducting training and capacity building on integration
  4. raising awareness about waste picker integration
  5. facilitating stakeholder engagement in the development of the South Africa Waste Picker Registration System (SAWPRS) and piloting the SAWPRS.

Focus on municipal officials

The Status Quo Report found strong consensus that municipal officials were the group most in need of training and support to implement waste picker integration.

As a result, the project prioritised developing materials and conducting education and training activities for municipal officials, and worked closely with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA).

However, the project also engaged a much wider range of stakeholders.

Active involvement of reclaimer/waste picker organisations

The two main reclaimer/waste picker organisations in the country, the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) and the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), were actively involved in the development of the project, participated in project workshops and activities, and were key partners in the SAWPRS project. They have used the project training materials in their own workshops.

Webinars, online workshops and media

The project hosted a webinar series on waste picker integration. Each webinar included at least one reclaimer representative and other (non-reclaimer) experts. The webinars focused on: women waste pickers, partnering with waste pickers, integrating landfill waste pickers, and the South Africa Waste Picker Registration System. They were attended by representatives from ARO and SAWPA, NGOs, Industry Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), corporations, academia, and all three levels of government. The final webinar was attended by more than 100 people from 9 countries. Online workshops were conducted for a number of professional and civil society organisations. Discussion of waste picker integration reached a wider audience through publication of articles in The Conversation and The Daily Maverick and interviews with the project lead by local, national, and international media.

The South Africa Waste Picker Registration System

The creation of the SAWPRS is a major step forward for waste picker integration in South Africa as it grants waste pickers the recognition they deserve, provides them with proof of occupation, enables them to develop better relationships with residents and negotiate better access to recyclables, generates more accurate data on waste pickers and their work, and facilitates payment of waste pickers for the service they provide. ARO and SAWPA continue to lead the roll-out of registration across the country.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

The project was conceptualized before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and we had intended to conduct the education and training through in-person workshops. Shifting the activities online created a number of challenges that needed to be addressed, such as reclaimers’ generally poor internet connectivity. At the same time, it inspired a greater focus on the production of multi-media materials, which was highly generative.

Reclaimers in South Africa were prevented from working for the first six weeks of our lockdown. As they earn their living on a daily basis, this had devastating consequences for them and their families. Even once they were permitted to work, prices had plummeted. In order to support reclaimers, UNIDO redirected resources and purchased personal protective equipment and trucks for SAWPA and ARO. The trucks  increased their capacity to collect recyclables,  and ARO used its first truck in its COVID-19 relief project that provided food, protective equipment, and training on COVID-19 to reclaimers. 

This website

The materials

This website brings together the educational materials created by the Reclaim, Revalue, Reframe training and capacity building project. The materials draw on, deepen, and expand the information in the Guideline for Waste Picker Integration.

The materials include written overviews, reclaimer profiles, photo essays, animations, videos, posters, diagrams, and webinar recordings. We created this wide range of types of materials to make the topics come alive and allow you, the people using the website, to explore multiple aspects of each topic, while always keeping in mind that we need to foreground the knowledge, ideas, and experiences of the people who do the important work of reclaiming.

The sections

The website has eight sections:

  1. About and contact
  2. Understanding reclaimers/waste pickers
  3. Understanding waste picker integration
  4. Seven Steps for Waste Picker Integration
  5. Case studies
  6. Visual Resources
  7. Written Resources
  8. External resources

How to use the website

Instead of presenting a set of workshops, we have clustered the materials together under key topics related to reclaimers and integration so that collaborative Waste Picker Integration Working Groups, facilitators, and educators can combine resources that are most relevant for the workshops and meetings you are running and the classes you are teaching.

Frequently, we provide some suggestions on how you can use the materials in different settings, but these are just examples. You will likely have many additional ideas. 

If you are looking for particular types of materials, you can find all of the written materials used in the site under Written Resources and all of the visual materials under Visual Resources.

Website credits

Website text – Melanie Samson (UJ)

Authors of texts on the website – Melanie Samson (UJ), Tanya Zack, Kirsten Harrison, Ferrial Adam and Claire Cerutti

Design & Illustrations – Willemijn Schellekens (PhatTale_story_play_design)

Photographs – Mark Lewis, Electric Creative Media

Videos – Electric Creative Media

Animations – Social Compass

Website Development – WebGap

Funding – Government of Japan and UNIDO

Contact details

For more information about the project and this website, contact Prof Melanie Samson of the University of Johannesburg at melanies@uj.ac.za