The waste pickers of Durban : a case study of three buyback centres.
The informal sector in South Africa has experienced phenomenal growth since the end of Apartheid, and in Durban this has been no different. Due to the growth in unemployment, many have turned to the informal sector in order to find a way to survive and meet basic needs. Waste picking is one area of the informal economy where there is relative ease of entry, as limited start up capital is needed to go into business. This research sought to gain a better understanding of the waste pickers operating in Durban, their socio-economic characteristics, earnings, and their working conditions. The research also aimed to determine the linkages between informal recycling and the formal recycling industries, as well as the relationship between waste pickers and the local authorities. Three different buyback centres for recyclable material were chosen in order to gain access to waste pickers, and 20 questionnaires were conducted at each of these centres. Due to a lack of information as to the total population of waste pickers in Durban, this sample cannot be considered representative of all waste pickers in Durban. Rather, it presented a benchmark against which future larger studies can be measured. It was found that the waste pickers were fairly evenly divided according to gender, and that education levels were generally low with a large portion of the sample never having gone to school. Nearly all the waste pickers fell into the economically active population of 16-65, and most had migrated to Durban in search of a job. The majority of the waste pickers worked at least a standard working week, if not longer. Metal and cardboard were found to be the items of choice for collection. Nearly all the waste pickers transported their material by hand or by trolley. The study determined that waste picking cannot be considered a form of transitional employment. While the majority of the sample clearly expressed a wish to move to a different job, nearly all the respondents had been involved in waste picking for a year or longer. It is also an occupation entered into not by choice, but in order to survive. It is clearly a last resort for many of the individuals involved. The waste pickers in this study were found to earn, on average, very little. The differences in gender noted in this study were also startling. The men were found to have better means of transportation of materials (such as trolleys). Men were found to support smaller households, and earn more than the women, and more women were found to be living in very poor households than men. The relationship between the waste pickers and the local authorities was found to be a fairly indifferent one, and the waste pickers appeared to have limited contact with government officials. Considering the links between formal recycling and waste picking, this study supports the Marxist view of the informal economy, finding that the waste pickers in this study were clearly linked to the formal sector, and that their activities were subordinate to and dependent on the formal sector recycling companies.