Working With Your Local Informal Recycler Part II: Knowing Your Neighbourhood Collection Point

Informal recyclers are a valuable and unsung part of the waste management chain in Durban. Although some may make a mess, they are individuals doing important but thankless work that in the end helps the environment and saves the city money.
For Glenwoodians bundles of cardboard being sorted at the corner of Manning/Lena Ahrens and Davenport/Helen Joseph is a familiar Thursday morning sight. Used as a local collection and sorting point, the corner is an important spot in our local waste management chain. This week the Glenwood Collective visited to chat with one of the recyclers, Promise, to learn more about their lives, their work, and how we as a community can help.

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GC: Can you tell me about your day?

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Promise: I start collecting at half past four every morning. Each day I collect in a different neighbourhood depending on where the trash is being collected, for example, Tuesday I’m in Musgrave.  After we have have gone around the neighbourhood all the collectors gather together on a spot to sort what we have collected (On Thursdays that spot is Davenport and Manning, each day they gather in a different location. On Mondays they are also in Glenwood at Cato and Moore). After we’ve sorted our material we call a truck who comes to buy everything from us.

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GC: What are the materials you are looking to collect?

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Promise: I’m looking for cardboard and paper to sell, but also used clothes, electronics or food that I can take home to my family.

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GC: How are you organised? Is there someone in charge of this collection spot?

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Promise: We are not organised, there is no boss here. We are each individual traders and we work and sell separately. We just gather together for mutual security, company, and to help the truck find us to collect what we’ve gathered.

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GC: Do you compete with each other?

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Promise: We do, we are all independent. But we usually have a good relationship. Our real competition are the registered companies who do waste collection. I wish I could go to schools or other businesses to collect, but most of them use services who take their waste to the dump.

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GC: Why have you chosen this spot to collect and sort?

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Promise: We have worked on a number of different corners, but we always get chased away by the residents or businesses. We ended up here because it is a central location, but also because we have a good relationship with the people who live here. As long as we clean the space after we leave they give us no problems.

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GC: Have you had any problems with the city?

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Promise: Yes, sometimes Metro comes and chases us away. They have also confiscated our material and dumped it.

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GC: How could the city help your work?

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Promise: They could provide a site for us to do our work. The weigh station in Warwick is too far for us. We cannot carry all of this material down there, so a space on the Berea would be very helpful. Also, we would like access to the city dumps. We would prefer to collect and work their rather than collecting and sorting on the street.

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GC: What do you do when it rains?

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Promise: We still work! Actually we prefer it when it rains because our cardboard gets heavier, so we make more money when we sell it.

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GC: How can the community help your work?

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Promise: Talk to us and treat us like your neighbours. Please do not think we are beggars, we all work very hard. This is not the job we want, it is our last choice, but because there are no jobs it is the work we have to do to feed our families. If you have any jobs that you need done please consider asking us. We want to work as much as we can.

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GC: What is the best way for a local person to give you their recyclables.

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Promise: You can come and give it to us directly here at the collection site, but that’s not actually best. Because we are all independent if you bring it here only one person will benefit and it might cause tension. Instead leave any materials you have for us on the curb with your trash. But please do not put it in the plastic bags, leave it separately, so that we can see it, and then we will not have to open your bags.

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