By Tasmi Quazi
The Imagine Durban Cardboard Recycling Project being implemented by Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) since 2009 was featured in the Metro Ezasegagasini supplement of the local Mercury newspaper (6-19 July 2012, Page 5). The article titled “Promoting cardboard recycling” written by Themba Khumalo talked about the positive impact of the Project, as he writes:
“…In an effort to enhance the livelihood and prospects of citizens especially the poor, and to ensure a more environmentally sustainable city by separating and recycling waste material, the Municipality launched the Imagine Durban Inner-City Cardboard Recycling Project…This Project helps poor people to put food on the table…”
The article also captures the thoughts of Imagine Durban’s Bongumusa Zondo, AeT’s Research Officer, Tasmi Quazi, a business representative from Kentucky Fried Chicken and the most important story of one of the ‘informal’ recyclers participating in the project, as it is noted:
“Menzi Dlamini who hails from Ntabankulu in the Eastern Cape said he is grateful for the initiative as it has enabled him to provide for his family. ‘After six months of not finding work and surviving through feeding schemes, I met Africa (Recycler leader of the Palmer Street Recyclers which the Project has structured into a working committee). He advised me to start collecting cardboard and to recycle. Dlamini is now saving to open a tuck shop…”
For AeT, seeing another article covering the Project, but more importantly, the livelihoods of the cardboard recyclers, is encouraging because these have begun foregrounding their work as a normative activity. Some of these articles have served to dispel prejudices and stigma of ‘informal’ recyclers as destitute or deviant. For AeT in particular, ‘informal’ workers are not considered ‘poor’ due to the socio-economic statuses of some, and instead viewed and treated as pioneering entrepreneurs, professionals and co-developers in Project work.
In light of the growing concerns around mitigating climate change through increased recycling rates, the public needs to become accustomed to images and stories of ‘informal’ recycling as a normative green economy activity. Here, AeT’s Project Leader, Richard Dobson, shared his perceptive thoughts on the implications of the growing media attention:
“…These are people meaningfully and purposefully engaged in a valuable activity, there is nothing destitute about it. The ‘informal’ recyclers are doing what we should be doing, and these articles are in fact, expressions of our conscience”.
Secondly, while the article is not wrong in saying that the Project has enhanced the livelihoods of the participants, their activity in this important livelihood strategy pre-existed the Project. What is more critical to extrapolate from the emerging success of the Project is that it has served to regularise their previously erratic incomes into a more stable livelihood strategy. Furthermore, what is becoming more evident is that after a livelihood activity is stablilised, it enables the ‘informal’ workers to establish possible ways to diversify their livelihood strategy in order to achieve greater economic growth.