1st of March marks International Waste Pickers’ Day, in memory of the massacre in Colombia in which 11 waste pickers were brutally killed at the University of Barranquilla. For the past 21 years since this horrific event, waste pickers/informal recyclers have continued fighting for recognition of their work.
Although the day is marked by tragedy, it has inspired the inner-city cardboard recyclers of Asiye Etafuleni‘s Imagine Durban Pilot Project, to honour this day every year by counting their total contribution to recycling in one day. In 2014, this amounted to one and a half tonnes of recyclable cardboard which equates to saving 25 trees. All in a day’s work!
In the previous years of International Waste Pickers Day, the inner-city informal recyclers pleaded for more support from businesses and local government for reasonable access to recyclables and public spaces for their work, including protection from exploitation and harassment. This year however, the message to the world was overwhelmingly about affirming their identity and pride as informal recyclers.
“We are unashamedly able to say we are recyclers, it is our professional job and our source of income. We are able to support our families with it.” maMsomi, Pine Street Recycler
“People should stop complaining about there being no job opportunities because informal recycling is the answer to unemployment. Recyclers of the world don’t give up!” Afrika Ntuli, Recycler Leader
“Recyclers should be proud of their work. We earn more than many permanently employed people I know. The harder you work, the more you earn, we don’t have as much of a limit to our income earning potential” Maria Vilakazi, Recycler Leader
With regards to their vision of the future, this is what some of the Durban inner-city recyclers had to say:
“We feel a greater sense of solidarity when we meet but there is room for improvement in organising as informal recyclers so that we can unite and fight against exploitation. This is why we need Asiye eTafuleni’s continued support.
We are empowered more than other recyclers around the city because of the project and we feel privileged when other recyclers want to join our project and admire our strong trolleys. Also with the Project’s intervention of introducing us to other recyclables like plastics, we are making more money than before so the recycling industry is growing. ” maKhoba & maMsomi, Pine Street Recyclers
To learn more about International Waste pickers’ Day stories and events in Durban and around the world, follow the links below:
* Feature image: AeT staff members with Pine Street Recyclers and the custom-designed trolleys co-developed together with Rolltech. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.