Stellenbosch- Waste pickers working on the Devon Valley landfill are upset that the number of waste pickers allowed on site has been reduced to 40 people.
The Devon Valley landfill has provided more than a hundred people, living in the communities around the landfill, with a form of income in the past. Waste pickers sort recyclable materials on the landfill and sell these goods to middlemen who in turn sell these materials to bigger recycling companies.
But since the 1st of September only forty waste pickers are allowed on site at a time.
Saliem Haider, from the Department of Solid Waste at the Municipality of Stellenbosch contends that “the waste pickers are technically not allowed on site.”
“It is important for us to exercise some level of control. In order to meet their needs and our needs we have tried to meet each other in the middle and have allowed 40 people on site.”
Dianna De Wee, who has been working on the Stellenbosch landfill as a waste picker for more than 13 years, says the move to reduce the number of people on site could lead to an increase in crime in the Devon Valley area. “People have debt to pay and families to support. People will be forced to go and steal on the farms in the night.”
“Allowing only forty people on the site is completely unreasonable. They must allow at least 80 people to work on the landfill. There is more than enough work for everyone,” says Lionel Plaatjies, who also works as a waste picker at the Stellenbosch landfill.
Thousands of South Africans are depended on picking waste from landfills as an informal means of income. But according to Douw Steyn, the Director of Sustainability at Plastics SA, it is very challenging to determine the exact number of waste pickers in South Africa.
“It is difficult to say how many people earn an income through picking waste because many waste pickers are illegal immigrants and in many cases the waste pickers are not legally allowed on the landfill site. Our current estimate stands at 50-70 thousand people.
“I do think it is important that when municipalities restrict the number of people on landfills that they provide people with an alternative. Many people make a living from working on these sites so you have to provide them with options when you take away their livelihood,” says Steyn.
The South African Waste Pickers Association is in the progress of being registered as a trade union. Douglas Maphumulo, the Deputy Chair of the Hlanganani ma-Africa Waste Picker Cooperative, says that the registration of SAWPA as a trade union will “enable South African waste pickers to lobby for better working conditions and improved landfill infrastructure.”