More than 100 000 people in South Africa have turned to the waste-picking sector as a source of employment. This is according to Nonhlanhla Ngcobo, a PhD student and a researcher at the South African Chair in Cities, Law and Environmental Sustainability in the Faculty of Law at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Potchefstroom Campus.
“The slow economic growth rate in South Africa does not bring hope to the 31% of people currently unemployed, especially those with very low levels of education and skills,” she says.
This is why many people have turned to waste picking, which has become a vital part of the informal economy.
Examining the constitutional law position of waste pickers
The objective of her article was to investigate the current legal and policy framework on solid waste management at the local government level. Specifically, viewing the topic from a constitutional law perspective, Nonhlanhla focused on the waste-picking sector as a valid role player in environmental protection and the growth of the informal economy.
She assessed the extent to which the by-laws and waste management plans of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality and the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality conform to the dictates of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
Her conclusion is that waste pickers make an enormous contribution that is largely overlooked.
Waste pickers are invisible in municipal policy and law
“Apart from job creation, this sector has contributed toward the protection of the environment by ensuring the effective functioning of environmental waste management in South African municipalities, possibly saving them at least R750 million in landfill space annually.
“Despite this, the efforts of waste pickers go unnoticed in policy and local government law,” says Nonhlanhla.
In the article, she argues that the rights of waste pickers and the duties of local government enshrined in the Constitution should be used by municipalities to inform their waste management policies and ensure that waste pickers are included in their waste management strategies.
“Local government cannot afford to disregard the contribution of waste pickers as important role players in protecting the environment and contributing to the growth of the informal economy,” concludes Nonhlanhla.
Nonhlanhla Ngcobo is a PhD student and a researcher at the South African Chair in Cities, Law and Environmental Sustainability.