Episode 8: How Waste Reclaimers Recycle 80-90% of South Africa’s Waste | Urban Limitrophe Podcast | #AfricanReclaimersOrganization #WasteReclaimers #AfricanCities #Podcast

In this episode, I speak with Dr. Melanie Samson, about the important role that waste reclaimers play in our cities, particularly in Johannesburg. Melanie works closely with the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), a non-profit group that is fighting to get waste reclaimers the rights and recognition they deserve for their hard work and ensuring that their knowledge and perspectives are incorporated in the broader waste management system. 

In this episode, you'll learn about:

  • why in some cities there can be no recycling without waste reclaimers,
  • the precarious conditions and inequality waste reclaimers face when doing their work,
  • the great strides that the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) has made to get reclaimers the recognition they deserve,
  • why reclaimers are much more effective and efficient at collecting waste than private companies,
  • the steps people can take to support waste reclaimers work in their community,
  • and much more!

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This episode is co-sponsored by the University of Toronto School of Cities and the Department of Geography and Planning. The School of Cities "convenes urban-focused researchers, educators, students, practitioners and the general public to explore and address complex urban challenges, with the aim of making cities and urban regions more sustainable, prosperous, inclusive and just". To learn more about the School of Cities visit www.schoolofcities.utoronto.ca. To learn more about the Department of Geography and Planning visit www.geography.utoronto.ca.

Guest: Dr. Melanie Samson 

Melanie Samson is a human geographer at the University of Johannesburg. She previously worked in South African trade unions and social movements and has been researching and struggling with reclaimers (waste pickers) in South Africa and across the global South for the past decade.

Connect with ARO & Melanie


  • 04:41 | Introduction to Dr. Melanie Samson's work
  • 05:04 | Why do we refer to them as waste reclaimers versus waste pickers?
  • 05:58 | Why are waste reclaimers so beneficial for cities?
  • 09:24 | What is the process of waste reclaiming?
  • 12:24 | Where do waste reclaimers go to clean the materials that they collect?
  • 13:12 | What barriers do waste reclaimers face in doing their work?
  • 14:29 | How do waste reclaimers earn their money?
  • 15:48 | How ARO's pilot project is showing how to properly integrate waste reclaimers into the municipal waste collection system
  • 17:12 | Melanie explains the rationale and outcomes for AROs petition against the City of Johannesburg and Pikitup's levy
  • 18:48 | What kind of supports, partnerships, and/or policy changes would waste reclaimers like from the city to help them do their work in a safer way?
  • 20:40 | What are some ways to help reduce the stigmatization of waste reclaimers work?
  • 24:23 | What is the best way for people to get involved in supporting this movement?
  • 28:30 | Who are the buyers who purchase materials from waste reclaimers?
  • 29:38 | How the separation at source (SAS) vs separation outside of source (SOS) systems work?
  • 32:10 | How privatizing the waste management system jeopardizes the livelihoods of waste reclaimers 
  • 32:49 | Why waste reclaimers are much more effective and efficient at collecting waste than private companies

Show Notes

Want to learn more? Check out this episode's references!

Africa News. (2021, November 5). Art of trash: Celebrating South Africa’s overlooked waste pickers. Africa News. Retrieved from https://www.africanews.com/2021/11/05/art-of-trash-celebrating-south-africa-s-overlooked-waste-pickers/

African Reclaimers Organization (ARO). (n.d.). About. African Reclaimers Organisation. Retrieved from https://www.africanreclaimers.org/about/

Creecy, B. D. (2021). Amendments to the Regulations and Notices Regarding Extended Producer Responsibility. 23. Retrieved from https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/202105/44539gon400.pdf

Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and Department of Science and Innovation. (2020). National Waste Management Strategy 2020. Retrieved from https://www.dffe.gov.za/sites/default/files/docs/2020nationalwaste_managementstrategy1.pdf

Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and Department of Science and Innovation. (2020). Waste picker integration guideline for South Africa: Building the Recycling Economy and Improving Livelihoods through Integration of the Informal Sector. DEFF and DST: Pretoria. Retrieved from https://wasteroadmap.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Waste-Picker-Integration-Guidelines.pdf

Mafata, M. (2021, September 8). Informal waste reclaimers get World Wildlife Fund award. GroundUp News. Retrieved from https://www.groundup.org.za/article/informal-waste-reclaimers-receive-prestigious-award-world-wildlife-fund/

United Nations [UN]. (n.d.). Waste Wise Cities. UN-Habitat. Retrieved from https://unhabitat.org/waste-wise-cities

United Nations [UN]. (2018). Waste-Wise Cities: A Call for Action to Address the Municipal Solid Waste Challenge. UN-Habitat. Retrieved from https://urbanoctober.unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/Advocacy_Toolkit_And_Guide.pdf

World Wildlife Fund [WWF]. (2021, August 26). WWF names winners of Living Planet Award 2021. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved from https://www.wwf.org.za/?35962/WWF-names-winners-of-Living-Planet-Award-2021

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Episode 8: How Waste Reclaimers Recycle 80-90% of South Africa’s Waste | Urban Limitrophe Podcast | #AfricanReclaimersOrganization #WasteReclaimers #AfricanCities #Podcast
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