The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, along with the Department of Science and Innovation, published “The Waste Pickers Integration Guideline for South Africa”. This guideline serves as a model to integrate the informal waste pickers into the formal value chain. There are around 300 000 waste pickers, so integrating them is really important.

These 2 departments are not speaking to their colleagues at the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) though, which is going to make any realistic integration very difficult, if not impossible.

In order for the waste pickers to be integrated it needs to be economically feasible for this to happen and for it to be feasible, there needs to be enough profit in waste collection to afford the cost of the waste pickers.

The DTIC has a deliberate and stated objective of lowering the price of scrap metal in order to ensure the scrap consumers pay the lowest possible price for scrap metal. Given the waste pickers are paid according to what the recyclers can obtain for the scrap they sell, and given that this price is artificially low because of interventions from the DTIC, it means the waste pickers are paid less.

This leaves us with a dilemma. For the waste pickers to be integrated into the formal value chain, that value chain cannot lower their earning potential, which it currently does. This leaves us with a few options:

  1. Lighten the barriers to exporting scrap metal so that it’s value rises and more money is available to the waste pickers
  2. Government subsidises the waste pickers (highly unlikely given that government is close to bankrupt)
  3. Get the scrap consumers to pay a levy on all scrap they consume and use this levy to assist the waste pickers. This option, at least, places to cost of integrating the waste pickers with the biggest winners in the value chain.

Such a levy would need to be ring-fenced and cannot be allowed to be shifted to the recyclers. If this happens, the levy will accomplish nothing and the waste pickers will cover the cost of their own support as the prices they are paid will drop by the value of the levy imposed.

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