Integrating the informal waste sector into municipal waste management

Project Status: 

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), in partnership with the Coca Cola Company – and its bottler, Amalgamated Beverage Industries (ABI) – and the CSIR aim to bring solutions to the waste sector by integrating informal waste cooperatives into the municipal waste management system.

A partnership led by DEA provided recommendations on how to integrate the informal waste sector and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) into municipal solid waste management in South Africa. The CSIR’s role was to provide research and development insight on waste management challenges. ABI, through its commitment to sustainable development, conducted a study to establish best-practice business development support with the objective of increasing the number of SMMEs in the waste sector.

South Africa has a high unemployment rate. To add to this, some 60% of the unemployed had a qualification lower than grade 12 (StatsSA 2012).  The waste sector can support low-skilled workers and it can also create opportunities to deal with waste as a secondary resource, for example through recycling and manufacturing.

The informal sector has been active in the South African waste economy for more than two decades and plays an important role in diverting recyclables away from landfill towards recycling.  However, in most cities and towns in South Africa, they are marginalised and operate at the fringe of municipal solid waste management systems. 

Some of the major challenges highlighted in the sector include a lack of infrastructure, specifically transport, equipment and premises to keep collected waste, as well as a lack of capacity in terms of training, knowledge and skill.

Despite these challenges, the DEA believes that there is significant value locked in waste that can be derived from the work of waste pickers.

The research has culminated in a guideline and report evaluating co-operatives as a developmental vehicle to support job creation and SME development in the South African waste sector, as a means of achieving the goals of the National Waste Management Strategy. In particular, Goal 3 of the strategy, which aims to create 69 000 new jobs and 2 600 additional SMEs and co-operatives participating in waste service delivery and recycling by 2016.



The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Coca Cola Company –and its bottler, Amalgamated Beverage Industries (ABI) and the CSIR


The Green Fund through DEA

Contact Person

Linda Godfrey

Key Concept

Waste picker
A waste picker is a person who salvages reusable or recyclable materials thrown away by others to sell or for personal consumption. There are millions of waste pickers worldwide, predominantly in developing countries, but increasingly also in post-industrial countries.

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