Living and Working on Landfill Site

Women in the informal employment of waste collecting, “Waste Pickers'” make out  millions of people worldwide, who make a living by collecting, sorting, recycling, and selling materials that are thrown away. This kind of service forms part of the informal economy and provides a very important sustainable income and job opportunity for communities, municipalities and cleaning the environment.  The term “waste pickers” was adopted to facilitate global networking at the First World Conference of Waste Pickers in 2008.  A global term was given to people who supports families this way . They are given  names such as  “scavengers”,  in Portuguese they are known as “cat adores”  and in Spanish as ” recicladores.”  In most of the communities they have low social status and live and work in unhealthy conditions. They receive no or little support from governments (Wiego.org 2009).

“The organisation for Women in Informal Employment says that waste pickers across the work share some of the same aspects:

  • Workers are subject to social stigma, face poor working conditions, and are frequently harassed.
  • Waste picking is highly responsive to market-driven conditions for recyclable material.
  • Waste picking is often a family enterprise
  • In some cities, most waste pickers are
  • Waste picking appears to be chaotic work but is very organized.
  • Numbers of waste pickers fluctuate due to economic conditions and urban processes.
  • Waste pickers are often not part of public solid waste management systems; they are socially invisible and seldom reported in official statistics.
  • Waste picking is easily learned and usually does not require literacy. ” (Wiego.org 2009).

Pretoria Landfill Site!

This project by far took up most of my time, because I have to organise with the community leader, which is also an employee of the Tshwane Municipality.  I have to work around his schedule and then I can also just use an hour or maybe an hour and a half.  I have to work quickly and can only take the minimum equipment with me as the dumping site is not a safe place to be.  There are trucks and cars coming and going all the time and people run to scavenge what they can to sell.  There is always the opportunist around that will take anything to sell, that is why working with the community and building a trust relationship with them is very important. I do not offer money, but I do print photos for them and give it back to them.

Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil hosted a conference on sustainable outcome in 20-22 June 2012 organised by the  United Nations. This conference was about putting measures in place to help sustain the poor with better working and living conditions   (Sustainabledevelopment.un.org 2012).  In 2012 the closing of Gramacho, Latin-America’s largest landfill, left a 1 700 garbage pickers in uncertainty, and to a life they have always known.  The Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho  successfully negotiated a package deal for these workers to receive  R$14, 000 payout. They had to register bank

accounts and had to show ID documents, but some of them were born on this site and do not have ID documents. They had to be retrained and get new skills to try an assure them a job.  This still will not guarantee them a job.  The 2010 Oscar nominated documentary through the plight of these workers into the lime light. Since then the dilemma of waste pickers across the world has been taken up by organisations trying to get governments to help communities to better working and living conditions  (Rioonwatch.org 2010).

This particular site I am doing research on does not have a union or see these people living and working here to claim any government benefits.  They have  an established community with community leaders that help in regulating the dumping site and getting rid of criminals and help with safety. The landfill site is also located close to a newly developed estate and the site poses a threat to help criminals disappear into this maze of shacks.  The reality for these people on this organic landfill, it is that it will close down in a year and by November 2013 they might not have a place to live and recycle. The government is not responsible for them and they would have to make way for a new development project. All across the globe and in developing countries these garbage collectors face severe weather, toxic substances, foul odours, stray animals, disease, flies, and yet the work they do is” both honest and worthy of respect” (Environmentalgraffiti.com 1995).

Pretoria Landfill Site

I first started this project when I heard there were children living on this one specific landfill site in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa.  When I eventually found a person that connect me with the people living on the dumping site he informed me that the municipality chased away the children and gave the parents an ultimatum that they will be chased away from the site if the children live and work here.  Only adults are allowed  to work and live on this Organic landfill site that take builders and garden rubble only.   There is an estimate of 400 people living and working on this site. This cannot be confirmed and every time I ask it changes. From what I can see it is close to a few hundred people.

People living and working on landfill sites are working up to 11 hours to recycle plastic, tins, rubber and on the site I was working building rubble. They take old bricks and clean them up and re-sell them.  There are entrepreneurs that take off cut wood and make dog boxes out of it.  Most of the people I have interviewed on this site are a mix of poor South African citizens, people from Mozambique, Ghana, Congo and the biggest from Zimbabwe.  Most of those from other African countries are here illegally.  They sleep on the dumping site next to their finds for the day.  Once they have collected enough plastic, cardboard or rubber they phone the collectors to come and pick up the material and they get paid. 

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