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These Gauteng waste reclaimers have covered 20,000km and collected 700,000kg of plastic

Business Insider SA
Gauteng-based waste reclaimers team (left to right) Kagiso Monaise (Khakha), Themba Madiya, Denzo Langa, Sibusiso Balata and Aleco Modisane (Image supplied)
Gauteng-based waste reclaimers team (left to right) Kagiso Monaise (Khakha), Themba Madiya, Denzo Langa, Sibusiso Balata and Aleco Modisane (Image supplied)
  • A group of 50 Gauteng-based waste reclaimers, known as the Urban Surfers, reached some impressive milestones in July.
  • The group's movements have been tracked since November 2021 as a part of a project to support the important – but often underestimated – informal collection sector.
  • These waste reclaimers have collectively covered more than 20,000km in almost nine months.
  • They've also collected and sold more than 700,000kg of plastic recyclables worth around R1.4 million.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A group of 50 Gauteng-based waste reclaimers have collected 700,000kg of plastic recyclables and covered more than 20,000km in almost nine months, according to a project supporting this informal industry.

Informal waste reclaimers in South Africa play a vital role in the country's recycling value chain.

These reclaimers – who earn a living collecting, sorting, and selling kerbside waste – are responsible for the collection of more than half of all post-consumer paper and packaging in South Africa, according to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This diverts millions of tonnes of paper and packaging waste away from municipal landfills and has saved an estimated R950 million.

The Urban Surfer project supports informal waste reclaimers with equipment, health and safety training, personal protective equipment (PPE), and public awareness programmes through partnerships with the private sector.

Since November 2021, the Urban Surfer initiative, in partnership with insurance comparison site Hippo.co.za, has been tracking 50 waste reclaimers in Gauteng. Data obtained from tracking each trolley, equipped with a small battery-powered GPS that operates on cellular 2G networks, helps identify hotspots for garbage retrieval and can play a role in the country's Extended Producer Responsibility regulation.

By July of this year, the 50 waste reclaimers had collectively covered almost 19,000km, having collected and sold more than 700,000kg of plastic recyclables worth around R1.4 million. By Monday, the total distance covered by these reclaimers had grown to more than 22,000km, with each trolley and reclaimer having travelled between 500km and 1,000km since the tracking began.

"We aim to improve working conditions, create awareness around the value informal reclaimers bring, and change policy to increase our waste reclaimers' earning potential," said John Kullmann, Urban Surfer's head of design and development.

Breaching the 20,000km-mark coincides with the rebranding of trolleys and ongoing testing of prototypes. Similarly, waste reclaimers have been given new collection bags, which are a better fit for the trolleys.

These collection bags need to be replaced every two to three months, as does the reclaimers' clothing, which takes a beating due to the nature of the work. About half of the Urban Surfer reclaimers no longer have their original clothing and have been supplied with green high-visibility vests.

And while the project started with reclaimers in Alexandra, the initiative has since shifted its focus to the upmarket suburb of Sandton and The Parks areas.

"Our goal is to have as much coverage in residential areas as possible, as the reclaimers who collect waste in the suburbs are able to collect more recyclables than those in Alex."

"By deploying more trolleys into those focus areas, Urban Surfer is maximising its impact," said Kullmann.

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