Between 80% and 90% of South Africa’s post-consumer plastic and paper packaging waste is recycled by the more than 90 000 people who make a living from collecting, sorting and selling recyclable waste. These informal reclaimers have a 57% collection rate of recyclables, among the highest in the world.
Comparison site Hippo.co.za has partnered with a Gauteng-based waste pickers’ organisation, Urban Surfer, providing 50 of these marginalised members of our community with sponsored trolleys, collection bags and gear to help them gather recyclable waste in Sandton, Ferndale and other areas surrounding their communities.
Along with their low incomes and harsh working conditions, informal reclaimers also face discrimination and ill treatment. Urban Surfers aims to support them by creating awareness around the value these informal reclaimers add, both environmentally and economically. Urban Surfer has and will continue to advocate for improved working conditions.
“We hope to help the Urban Surfer team to achieve this goal by sponsoring safe and reliable equipment as well as clothing and accessories to their team of 50 informal reclaimers,” says Hippo.co.za CEO Bradley du Chenne. “We’re investing in a CSR project by helping to change the narrative about informal reclaimers in the hopes of inspiring more corporates to help support this.”
The waste and recycling sectors have been growing at an average annual rate of 23% over the past few years, with each informal reclaimer diverting an estimated 24 tons of packaging waste from our country’s landfills per year.
Yet their living and working conditions do not reflect the value they quietly bring to our economy, and waste pickers do not receive the respect or remuneration they deserve. A recent study of waste pickers working at nine landfill sites across South Africa found that 60% lived at landfill sites or in informal structures, the veld or the bush.
A 2020 study by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Science and Innovation noted that the waste sector already contributes 1.6% to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “But it could contribute more,” the report stated. “With waste picker integration, the waste sector can contribute to the country’s GDP while mainstreaming and ensuring inclusive growth.”
Du Chenne describes Hippo.co.za’s work with Urban Surfer as a partnership for the greater good. “We’ve been investing in sectors over the past year that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. It’s been important to us to provide more value, not only in our business, but as support to sectors that spur sustainability and economic growth,” he says.
The shared value runs even deeper than that, adds Du Chenne. “Hippo.co.za is committed to helping people make better choices by being better informed,” he says. “This hopefully helps them to invest wisely in better and more affordable products, ultimately putting them in a better financial position. It also pushes consumers to think of sustainability outside of rands and cents, such as the environment and natural resources.
“Supporting the informal reclaimers feeds into our vision of uplifting and supporting South Africans. It’s also our way of making better choices as a business for the community and the environment.”