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Good strides to support the unity of Cape Town’s informal reclaimers

2022 has been a formative year for the betterment of both the well-being and livelihoods of hundreds of Cape Town’s reclaimers towards being recognised and valued for their role in the city – and in society.

Supporting the creation of an enabling environment for reclaimers – or waste pickers – is essential in advancing the shift towards a more sustainable and equitable circular economy.

The year-end marks the close of a swift one-year reclaimer project in Cape Town that held great ambition and has shown good foundational traction within this short time frame.

Funded by 3Mgives through GlobalGiving, the WWF project was carried out in partnership with the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), a Johannesburg network representing over 5 000 informal waste-collecting individuals. The ARO organising team engaged closely with key reclaimers from Cape Town communities, to help them realise the value of coming together more formally, as well as to discuss shared challenges and connect with relevant authorities in presenting a united voice on their contribution to waste management and recycling matters.

There was also shared best practice from ARO’s experiences, as ARO encouraged reclaimers across Cape Town to join the cause and work together for improved operating conditions.

The year-long project celebrated two main wins. The big one is that over 1 000 reclaimers were engaged while approximately 700 previously independent reclaimers from the Mother City are now registered on a national waste picker database. The other win is that these pioneer reclaimers have also committed to being part of a local body that will collectively represent them and their peers in relevant forums when engaging with industry and government. During 2022, this local group has further showed interest to operate under the same name of ARO, as its representatives in Cape Town.

In parallel, the pilot registration project was carried out this year. The registration of reclaimers is a requirement in the 2019 Waste Picker Integration Guidelines, as well as being included in the mandatory 2021 Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations. The need for this was made abundantly clear during the pandemic: when the most vulnerable people need support during a time of intense hardship, such as the Covid-19 lockdowns, how can they be reached and helped?

The new registration system now means that informal reclaimers can also be centrally recognised – and represented – through this South African Waste Pickers Registration System database.

Since the 2019 Waste Picker Integration Guidelines for South Africa, stipulating that municipalities must support reclaimers with resources, there is an impetus for all cities to co-develop ways to integrate reclaimers into the formal waste system and future city-wide waste management plans.

“We need to acknowledge inclusivity and equity in the transition to an inclusive circular economy,” said Lorren de Kock, Manager of the Circular Economy Portfolio at WWF South Africa.

Adds de Kock, “It is exciting to remember that our now mandatory extended producer responsibility regulations also recognise that a service fee should be payable to reclaimers by producers of packaging and other waste streams. And where reclaimers are organised, this enables them to negotiate such fees and other benefits with the producers/industry which might include transportation, storage facilities or pre-agreed rates with buy-back centres.”

The Cape Town reclaimer project included meetings between ARO, City of Cape Town and key stakeholders, as well as WWF and a few of Cape Town’s reclaimers. ARO held face-to-face discussions with reclaimers in the communities of Ashton, Capricorn, Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Makhaza, Mitchells Plain, Philippi, Pinelands and Tafelsig.

In October, a small but diverse multi-stakeholder workshop was held, titled “Lessons from informal reclaimers organising in Cape Town”. It was attended by a handful of reclaimers, as well as different waste-involved bodies across the city, including representatives from the City of Cape Town, Stellenbosch Carbon Credit Recycling Project, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the University of the Western Cape and the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership.

In October, a small but diverse multi-stakeholder workshop was held, titled “Lessons from informal reclaimers organising in Cape Town”.

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