In a country with high unemployment and poverty, recycling is a source of income for a growing number of people. Coupled with poor refuse and recycling habits at household level*, the informal collection and trade of recyclables provides a living for an estimated 60 000 to 90 000 men and women countrywide.
Some recyclables are like gold for waste collectors. With a bit of kindness and thought about your family’s refuse habits, you can make a collector’s work a little quicker and easier by keeping certain recyclables out of your bin and in a separate bag or box.
This will not only save space in your bin, but you will also divert valuable materials away from landfills, which are rapidly reaching capacity.
“With recyclables, the value is in the material that can be sold for re-use,” says Edith Leeuta, CEO of Fibre Circle, the producer responsibility organisation for the South African paper and paper packaging sector.
Covering significant distances on foot every day, collectors weave through suburbs and cities to retrieve ‘waste’ in return for cash. This material is sorted and sent to recycling mills and factories for conversion into usable and commercially viable products. In the case of paper, the fibre is extracted and repulped to make new paper products such as packaging and tissue.
Fibre Circle shares a list of 10 items that you can keep out of your bin and separate for a waste collector.
- Used office paper
- Brown cardboard boxes
- Food packaging such as cereal, toothpaste, pizza and takeaway boxes (remove food residue)
- Grocery delivery bags and take-away bags
- Milk and juice cartons (depending on the area)
- Plastic milk bottles
- PET soft drink bottles – various sizes
- Fabric softener bottles
- Aluminium soft drink cans
- Tin cans
It is, however, a good idea to find out what your neighbourhood collectors take. (They may only take certain items and this may differ from area to area.)
Even if an item is recyclable or recycled in South Africa, a waste collector might not take it if it is too heavy or too low value.
Four top tips for recycling
- Keep recyclable paper clean and dry, and separate from wet waste. As a raw material used in new paper products, it should not be contaminated by wet and rotting food waste, liquids or pet waste.
- Get a bin, box or bucket for your recyclables. Recycling containers don’t need to be fancy or expensive.
- Plastic, cans and tins should be rinsed lightly – we suggest using the water after washing dishes to reduce additional water use.
- Take other recyclables to recycling centres at local shopping or community centres.
* According to the CSIR, only 10% of urban households recycle.