80 to 90 percent of paper and packaging material recycled in South Africa is entirely due to efforts of green champions

NATIONAL Recycling Day takes place on Friday, September 15, and Johannesburg businesses and residents are being urged to separate their waste and help both the environment and the city’s waste pickers who are now an integral part of the city landscape.

Due to their efforts in the recycling industry, South Africa is now on par in the recycling arena with European countries – 80 to 90 percent (by weight) of paper and packaging material recycled in South Africa is entirely due to the efforts of these green champions.

These reclaimers fill a critical gap in waste management in South Africa where, in some parts, waste management services are often non-existent. Many are members of the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), which was founded in 2018 and was the first organisation of recyclers that united those who work in landfills and streets.

It now has more than 6 000 members and is focused on the northern suburbs (Saxonwold to Midrand) plus the central areas of Braamfontein, Parktown, Auckland Park and Brixton.

The difference these recyclers have made to our environment is astounding and so it was hardly surprising that the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) became the first winners of the the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Award for Organisations in 2021

Research by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has shown that close to 90 000 South Africans work as informal recyclers collecting close to 90 percent of all materials that are recycled. This has led to South Africa being ranked third behind countries such as Sweden on its recycling rates.

Informal waste reclaimers collect discarded items that would normally end up in landfills and the environment and sell these to buy-back centres for recycling. Their work saves municipalities R780 million in landfill space alone and that saving does not include the savings in waste removal trucking and fuel.

So what can Johannesburg businesses and residents do to help create a cleaner environment and improved livelihoods for those collecting the waste?

The ARO are promoting the use of their ARO Gereza Recycling bag (or any clear plastic bag or boxes) to place recyclable waste. This includes materials such as clear polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, plastic milk containers, Kreepy Krawly pipes, plastic plant pots, large yoghurt containers, aluminium cold drink tins, aluminium pie plates, electronic waste, cardboard and paper.

  • Place that which has value to waste reclaimers in boxes or clear packets on the pavements on collection day.
  • Rinse soiled containers so they are clean for collection.
  • Remove bottle tops and labels as reclaimers cannot re-sell these.
  • Be mindful to reclaimers on the road while driving.
  • Encourage other reclaimers to join ARO.
  • Get to know your local reclaimers and learn how you can help them.

Says ARO spokesperson and business development manager, Luyanda Hlatshwayo: “When informal reclaimers were first seen on our streets they were often stigmatised in our society but people are beginning to understand the essential role we play when it comes to recycling. It is important for citizens to value reclaimers and for us as reclaimers to be proud of the contribution we make.”

Image supplied (Eva Mokoena one of recyclers who work in landfills and streets).

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