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The Work and Lives of Street Waste Pickers in Pretoria—A Case Study of Recycling in South Africa’s Urban Informal Economy


High levels of unemployment are a permanent feature in the urban areas of many developing countries. South Africa is no exception in this regard. Poverty and hardship caused by unemployment force many participants in the labour market to venture into the urban informal economy in order to survive. The activities of the waste pickers fall within the urban informal economy. In spite of the fact that waste pickers are a common sight in the urban areas of Pretoria and other South African cities, remarkably little is known about them and scant attention is paid to them. The aim of the study was to establish a socio-economic profile of the street waste pickers in Pretoria and to describe the social interaction and relationship dynamics between the waste pickers and their families, each other, the community and buy-back centres. This was done by conducting the first ever empirical study of the street waste pickers in Pretoria. The results revealed that the role of street waste pickers in the broader waste management system is an important public issue that requires urgent attention and appropriate policy responses from policy makers.

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The authors are extremely grateful for the valuable comments made by Dr. Alet Harmse, Dr. Margaret O’Neil and the anonymous referee(s) on the earlier drafts of the article. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Correspondence to Phillip Frederick Blaauw.

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Schenck, R., Blaauw, P.F. The Work and Lives of Street Waste Pickers in Pretoria—A Case Study of Recycling in South Africa’s Urban Informal Economy. Urban Forum 22, 411 (2011).

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  • Urban informal economy
  • Recycling
  • Street waste pickers
  • Waste management system