Being a micro-collector is more than just collecting waste

Stacey Davidson, director at REDISA, shares how the informal sector is key to driving economic growth.

In the third quarter of 2016 South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 27.1% and it is evident that the country is facing tremendous unemployment challenges, especially with 5.8 million unemployed youth between 15 and 35. Entrepreneurship is a possible solution to addressing the high unemployment rate as it has the ability to drive sustainable economic growth.

The sight of a person pushing a trolley filled with empty cans or bottles down the road to be recycled is familiar to all South Africans. Informal micro collectors (waste pickers) have long been a part of recycling in our country, playing a pivotal role in the collection and removal of waste from our streets.

In South Africa there is an estimated 88 000 people who make their living as micro collectors. These people can earn up to R120.00 per day by selling recyclables. Waste picking is a means to earn money, and it does not require participants to be literate or of a certain age or gender to work. The skills they need are gained while picking and sorting through waste. With waste comes opportunity, and with only 10% of waste being recycled, there is an opportunity to turn the burden of waste around.

Businesses and communities need to recognise that micro collectors contribute to the local economy, to public health and safety, and to environmental sustainability. Without them we would be living in slums. Micro collectors face challenges daily, with very little or no recognition from society for the role they play, which cannot be under-estimated.

REDISA is already formalising the micro collectors industry by taking a broader approach to the role of these individuals in the collection of waste tyres, and working to provide them the opportunity to grow within the REDISA framework. Ultimately, by formalising an informal sector, micro collectors will be provided the opportunity of full participation in South Africa’s economy – helping people to live independently and, by finding the value in waste, start small businesses in the recycling industry.