During lockdown, the role of informal waste reclaimers, and their lockdown-induced livelihood impacts, was especially evident. As was the handling of infectious waste. Another persistent issue, driven by the plunge in the cost of oil, was the cheaper cost of fossil fuel-based virgin plastic compared to recycled plastic.
Despite its undervalued downstream position, the waste and recycling sector serves essential roles in the country’s economy. This includes waste minimisation through the recovery and recycling of materials that would alternatively be sent to landfills, and supporting the transition to a circular economy.” (WWF, 2021: Essential considerations for a resilient and equitable waste and recycling sector: Urban lockdown lessons for South Africa).
Recommendations for incorporating our lockdown lessons are included on page 21 of the report, covering policy and legislation to incentivise a circular economy and support the informal sector and SMMEs, green procurement commitments by all levels of government, business assistance and mentorship for the informal sector and SMMEs to aid in our ‘green recovery’, improved funding of sufficient recycling industry (through EPR and other mechanisms) as well as a specific emphasis on integration of the informal sector.
As mentioned in the report, networks and organisation in the informal collection sector effectively highlighted the plight of reclaimers and mobilised relief effectively in certain areas where informal sector organisation is the most advanced. Our member the African Reclaimers’ Organisation (ARO) was one of the key players.