As the world works to address environmental issues, Africa is also hard at work pioneering local solutions to address local problems. Principally environmental management issues are bourn from the growing African population and economy which result in numerous macro challenges including planning of waste management infrastructure and processes. As In 2014, as part of the discussion in his doctoral thesis – Economics and Social Aspects of Street Waste Pickers in South Africa – Dr. Viljoen highlights the stark circumstances surrounding the informal recycling industry in South Africa. Just as any African country the informal recycling industry has been growing rapidly to address local waste management problems, this also following global trends and innovations in the waste management industry. As the informal recycling industry grows promoted by developments in the Green Economy, various concerns emerge especially what can be done to adequately resource informal recycling teams across the continent to actually make their operations viable at all levels.
At almost the same period that the University of Johannesburg conferred the PhD status on Dr Viljoen, there was a social entrepreneur hard at work addressing the same problems in his thesis. Gabriel Ally, a passionate young Johannesburg entrepreneur, cracking his brain as to why other youth walk long distances from poverty and unemployment stricken townships of Gauteng, South Africa to literally “PICK and SORT” garbage bins in Johannesburg’s suburbia; was determined to rid them of part of their toil dragging large heavy trolleys. The return per single “large heavy trolley” dragged for very large distances through heavy traffic varies between R30 (US$2) – R240 ($16) per kg depending which middlemen they sell it to or what arrangements have been made.
Research on the Ground
After some research and observations, Gabriel found a solution which would give these informal recycling operators a better chance to increase their productivity and efficiency. Since the operators were using manual drawn trolleys this was extremely burdensome and dangerous, in the face of busy city traffic. The solution Geza Jozi e-Trike, a simple tri-wheeled motor powered cart which has the capacity to carry a load of 150 kg of recyclable waste over 60 km distances. This solution definitely goes a long way to ease the burden of this largely fragmented group of informal recycling operators. Various working papers have been pieced together to try get the discussion going on how best to organise and increase the margins of these informal recycling agents. The solution as pursued by the South American cities, is cutting out the middlemen and implementing a trading system that allows the informal recyclers the operational integrity they require be it as trade unions, co-operatives or associations. An organised arrangement is also provided as a solution for the informal recycling industry in a working paper by Jan Theron published by the WIEGO working paper series (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) a policy action group based in Cambridge, United States.
It only makes more sense for informal recyclers to be given the platform to get more organised because they are doing more than just serving their own interests, their marginal social benefit from their activities exceeds their marginal private returns. Collectively, as an enterprise, set up according to their needs they can leverage a lot of benefits from their collective effort such as pricing economies and factor economies. There is a lot of talent in the social entrepreneurship space, here comes a good idea, to genuinely get some organisation in this really undersold industry in South Africa and greater Sub-Saharan Africa.
Article by Positivity Global (Africa)
Photo Credit Geza Jozi