A loaded trolley and the investigated buy-back depot “Remade” (own picture)

A loaded trolley and the investigated buy-back depot “Remade” (own picture)

 Malve Jacobsen & Tebogo Ramatlo

(Part 1 focused on the recycling system in Johannesburg and its links within formal and informal structures whereas Part 2 has a closer look on one local buy-back centre in central Johannesburg and the collectors’ perspective.)

Ill. 2: Area of Research (maps modified by Tebogo Ramatlo)

The recyclable waste is collected from different places all around the city. Collectors told us that the most common practice is to collect waste from households’ and public bins in the street. Some collectors even have arrangements with shop owners or other trades which produce a lot of waste. The persons we spoke to collect most of their daily waste from different neighbourhoods closed to the buy-back center and the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. After having finished collecting, they pull their goods on trolleys along the main roads all the way to the buy-back center. There, they line up outside the center at noon every day. The waste is then sorted out into its different categories and weighed on the scales and charged per kilo. Since it is the only depot in the precinct the owner has no direct competition. The resulting power makes it difficult for the collectors to negotiate (sometimes very low) prices. We were told that 80% of the waste collected by that buy-back station comes from waste collectors and only 20% from collecting vehicles.

For our research we chose one private run buy-back centre that is located in the western part of the inner city, in a district called Newtown.

For our research we chose one private run buy-back centre that is located in the western part of the inner city, in a district called Newtown.


Buy-back center in Newtown with a private collection truck (own picture)

Buy-back center in Newtown with a private collection truck (own picture)


Name Background Strategy and Schedule Opinion Formalization
Bheki He moved to Johannesburg fromKwa-Zulu Natal for better opportunities but couldn’t find any job and began to collect waste in August 2013 due to the need to survive. He earns between R60 and R80 ZAR per day. Currently he resides in George Gosh, Johannesburg. He collects waste every day (Monday to Friday from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m.) in Rosebank and Parkwood (Northern Suburbs) and sorts it out in the evening. He exchanges waste for money at Remade buy-back center every Friday before 2 p.m. He wants the activity upgraded (in whatever sense) in order to have a regular income. He wants to be able to rent a house with better services, which he can’t do until now.
Beauty She immigrated from Mpumalanga in 1994 and moved to Daveyton (near Johannesburg) to stay with her relatives until 1995. Then, she moved to Johannesburg CBD to look for a job in the city that will generate monthly income. Without any luck she ended up collecting waste in 1999.

Within this economic opportunity she found herself homeless along with other gentlemen under the M1 high way and moved recently to Bekezela Informal Housing.

She accumulates the waste from Monday to Friday (5 a.m. to 12 a.m.) and sorts it directly out 12 a.m. on the line at the buy-back center.

Her schedule is influenced by the weekly schedule of the municipal waste collection company (pikitup), which passes various parts of northern-based suburbs (Monday: Braamfontein; Tuesday: Brixton; Wednesday: Mayfair; Thursday: Linden; Friday: Emmarentia).

She wants waste collection to become formalized in sense of social and economic empowerment. She complains about the lack of resources and the stigmatization of waste collectors: “If the activity can help lower poverty and give some sort of income, then the Johannesburg municipality should empower the community of waste so that they have better structured working conditions.”
Vuyo He moved 2007 from Eastern Cape to his mother’s place in Kgutsong (Carltonville) and resides currently in Bekezela Informal Settlement. He is one the few collectors who is well respected and who has established a close relationship with the community he collects from. People open their gates for him to freely take the already sorted out waste. His earnings total between R120 ZAR on a good day and R70 ZAR on a bad day which he observes more and more due to the increase of waste collectors since the beginning of 2013. He collects the waste every day (Monday: Linden; Tuesday: Melville; Wednesday: Riverlea; Thursday: Northgate; Friday: Greenside) from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., sorts it out at his place and exchanges the waste at the buy-back station.



He is a registered member of the municipality as waste collector since 2011 under the association of waste collectors. The relationship with the municipality gave them a voice to request a temporary shelter in the former college after to the evictions from the highway bridge. The registration of the waste collector association requires a legal South African identification document: Collectors get a personal identification card that becomes a symbol of recognition and security between society and waste collectors. Through that card collectors are formally introduced to the community and collectors can verify that they are no perpetrators who pretend to be collectors in order to break into residences homes.

He wants the activity to be formalized so that it can give birth to collector unions that will protect their rights, force the municipality to provide better trolleys, provide lanes for ease of movement and structured good working condition. He wants to work normal hours with better pay so that he can afford his own place to rent and be able to afford food.

The collectors come from different areas and pursue different strategies for housing. Some collectors commute every day to their families and others reside opposite the depot in an abandoned former college. The Johannesburg municipality offered the empty shell to them as a temporary shelter after forced removals from the nearby highway bridge by the Johannesburg metro police early in 2013. The shelter houses about 300 collectors from different areas around the continent. Some are illegal immigrants without registered documents.

Recyclers sleeping warehouse opposite buy- back center in Newtown (own picture)

Recyclers sleeping warehouse opposite buy- back center in Newtown (own picture)

Talking to the collectors helped us immense in order to understand their needs and set them into the context of formalization. Even though the interviewed recyclers advocate a formalization process their ideas about the details differ from those of the municipality’s approach. For example, they wish to be empowered and better equipped with trolleys but see only to a limited extent the necessity of identification and registration. They are by themselves already highly organized and structured. Therefore, we think the concern should be to facilitate the informal recycling sector and improve the conditions within but not to formalize in the means of controlling and intervening in the highly organized working structure.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s