Reclaimers (or waste pickers as they are also known) form a critical part of our waste management and should be recognised as they provide an essential service. Luyanda Hlatshwayo, a member of the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), told Karibu! about the dangers which the currently informal recyclers are faced with and the demands they are making on the state. Hlatshwayo said that the reclaimers are possibly going to be carriers of the coronavirus because they come into contact with a lot of people through their refuse.
“We are very vulnerable”, said Hlatshwayo. “Reclaimers’ work needs them to touch the material directly as they are separating recyclable stuff from what will be disposed. The COVID-19 coronavirus reportedly remains on hard surfaces like plastic, cardboard and metal for a number of days which means that the reclaimers will be at high risk of contracting the virus. Another challenge is that the people doing this recycling work have no healthcare options in place or near where they sort the material they help remove.
Reclaimers must have a say in what happens to them and they must organise themselves and their communities, instead of letting the government decide for them, noted Hlatshwayo. Reclaimers need to have surgical gloves constantly to help protect them, sanitisers in place and assurance that safety measures are in place should they be forced to work, since their income only helps them subsist from day to day. These are some of the demands ARO activists plan to take into engagements with the Department of Environmental Affairs regarding its waste management plan.
Another concern raised by Hlatshwayo is that the buy-back centres are going to be shut down. This means reclaimers will not be able to sell the material they’ve collected for recycling. He said that the government has to assure that it will intervene through price-support because prices offered for materials have been falling for two months before the coronavirus outbreak took off in South Africa.