Work experience with inner city cardboard recyclers

by Tasmi Quazi for Asiye eTafuleni

On Tuesday 8th of March, two new members to the Imagine Durban Cardboard Recycling Project, who are 4th year social work students from UNISA’s Bright Site Project, joined two Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) staff members to get practical experience in the working lives of informal cardboard recyclers. The Bright Site Project aims to assist AeT in identifying and strategising possible solutions to the socio-emotional challenges faced by the inner city cardboard recyclers.

Cardboard recyclers with their custom Asiye Etafuleni trolleys.
Social work student Sithembile Mxhakaza (on the right) assisting cardboard recycler Philani Ngcobo, wearing his custom-designed apron and a prototype of the custom-designed trolley, as they salvage cardboard in the inner city.

The team embarked from a cardboard collection point in Palmer Street, where a group of informal cardboard recyclers sell their cardboard. The four hour session involved breaking into two teams led by cardboard recyclers, Victoria Bubu and Philani Ngcobo, each with a different prototype trolley that have been custom-designed by AeT.

Each team set off from Palmer Street and followed different routes, stopping at different points where private firms and businesses in and around the ICC were approached for their cardboard and paper waste. After the trolleys were piled up with cardboard, the two teams returned to the Palmer Street collection point to stack and tie the cardboard into compact bundles to be weighed and paid for (at a rate of 50 cents per kilogram of wet cardboard) by Reclamation, one of a number of inner city recycling agents.

At the weigh-in back at the Palmer Street Collection point, 500 kilograms was collected in total by the Reclamation truck in its morning collection time-slot. It returns again for an afternoon collection. The six recyclers who sold their cardboard earned different amounts based on the amount collected in the total four hour session, with minimum earnings of R10 and maximum of R87,50. The recyclers mentioned that these earnings are lower than normal because Tuesdays and Thursdays see a lesser supply of cardboard compared to other days of the week.

These were some of the reflections from the social work students from the Bright Site Project that were first timers to the cardboard recycling work experience:

Cardboard recycler Victoria Bubu on the left, being assisted by Sibusiso Zulu
Cardboard recycler Victoria Bubu on the left, being assisted by Sibusiso Zulu in salvaging cardboard that is enabling her with a viable livelihood and assisting in keeping the city clean.

“There is definitely competition between the recyclers to get cardboard which is not always easily available (…) Victoria is very appreciative of the project as cardboard recycling has been a good source of income that has allowed her to move from the Africa section of Inanda township where she previously stayed, to renting a flat in town for R900 a month that is closer to her work.” Sibusiso Zulu

“The long walking distances to collect cardboard was challenging (…) It is clear that there are some good and strong relationships between the recyclers and the people they collect from (…) the challenges related to this work is not so much economic than it is social. Many of the men cardboard recyclers are not emotionally well, they are very hurt inside and have found other ways of coping, such as substance abuse and so on…” Sithembile Mxhakaza

Asiye Etafuleni invites formal businesses to support the Friends of the Recyclers programme. Donating your cardboard and paper waste to inner city cardboard recyclers can help to support their livelihoods.

If you would like to be involved in this initiative, please feel free to contact Tasmi Quazi on (031) 309 3880, e-mail, or visit the website You can also download more information on [download id=”9″ format=”2″] here.

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