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WWF names winners of Living Planet Award 2021

An acclaimed South African scientist who passed away this year and an organisation dedicated to giving a voice to informal reclaimers (otherwise known as ‘waste pickers’) were named the winners of WWF’s annual Living Planet Award 2021

The Living Planet Award is made annually to exceptional South Africans who, through their catalytic contribution, inspire people to live in harmony with nature. This year the winners were named as:
  • Professor Bob (Robert) Scholes (posthumous) in the individual category
  • Johannesburg-based African Reclaimers Organisation in the organisational category
Prof Bob Scholes passed away during a hike in northern Namibia in April this year. At the time of his passing, he was a Distinguished Professor of Systems Ecology and Director of the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute at University of the Witwatersrand.

WWF said in its homage to Prof Scholes that he was a giant in the field of climate science, a true leader and dedicated conservation ecologist. The award honoured his lifelong commitment to science and the inspiration he continues to give those who follow in his footsteps.

Recognised as an A-rated scientist in South Africa, Prof Scholes was also ranked among the top 1% of environmental scientists worldwide, based on citation frequency. He published widely in the fields of savannah ecology, global change, and earth observation.

On the international stage, he gained recognition as one of the lead authors in the third, fourth and fifth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the present and future effects of climate change and how humanity can adapt to reduce climate threats.

He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, a Fellow of the CSIR and, in 2014, was elected an International Member of the US National Academy of Science.

The African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) was honoured for their work in support of a truly circular economy and for being the voice of a particularly vulnerable community in the waste and recycling sector.

The ARO is a Johannesburg-based non-profit, member-directed organisation, representing informal waste reclaimers, regardless of their nationality. It was formed in September 2018 in response to the City of Johannesburg’s decision to contract private companies to collect recyclables from high-income areas in the city, thereby displacing informal reclaimers and threatening their livelihoods. 

The ARO’s mission is to unite informal reclaimers and to protect their livelihoods by ensuring that they are recognised as part of the waste and recycling economy.

They work to foster a better relationship with key actors in the waste system, including residents, businesses, and municipalities, and to remove the stigma and social taboos connected to the work of reclaimers. 

Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO WWF South Africa commented: Given our pressing environmental needs, Prof Scholes’ passing leaves a gaping chasm, but his legacy lives on through his scientific endeavours and the many people he touched.

“The African Reclaimers Organisation are worthy winners of our first organisational award. Informal reclaimers are often stigmatised in our society – yet they perform an essential role when it comes to recycling. We applaud the ARO’s efforts to advance their cause for recognition and dignity for those who are among the most vulnerable players in our waste sector.”
Prof Bob Scholes teaching in the field in March 2021 shortly before he passed away.

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