Wasteful Lives, Waste Full Livelihoods

Wasteful Lives, Waste Full Livelihoods

This month, at the New England Landfill in Pietermaritzburg the Waste Pickers were shot at with rubber bullets and stun grenades. How did the Waste Pickers get so desperate and what is our role in this issue?

They were protesting for their rights to work safely and with dignity. The Pickers make a living from our waste, sifting through the rubbish for recyclable items to sell, but in atrociously unsafe and unhealthy conditions. The Msunduzi Municipality is proposing to burn the waste to make electricity.

This waste to energy proposal sounds like a good idea. However, it destroys the inherent value of the waste and the income generating opportunities of the Waste Pickers and causes air pollution which is hazardous to our health. The planet’s resources are not endless – as we are learning from the drought!

Our modern lives have brought many benefits. These have come at a cost, which is not always borne justly or equitably. We each throw ‘away’ kilograms of waste every week, much of it ends up in landfills. Here the value of the waste is lost and the pollution from this site and other landfills continues to increase. There is no ‘away’. The impact is felt by someone, somewhere and detrimentally affects the environment – our life support system.

The landfill site generates landfill gas, which is rich in methane, a powerful Greenhouse Gas which contributes to Climate Change. The waste pickers are removing as much as possible of the tons that are dumped every day. In so doing, they are providing a valuable service to us all. This waste comes from our households, industries, businesses, schools, restaurants and offices. Much of this can be avoided by making simple choices.

• Compost all organics – food waste is easily made into compost with leaves and garden trimmings. A small wormery deals with organic waste simply.
• Choose reusable not disposable items – shopping bags, food storage containers (not clingfilm), washable mugs not paper cups, returnable bottles;
• Clean and sort your waste before recycling to increase the value and minimize the risk to those handling it after you;
• Repair broken items and refurbish for a fresh look to avoid buying new, wherever you may be – at home, at play, at work or school;
• Take your waste home for recycling if you are out in public places;
• Lobby your Ward Councillor to ensure access to recycling facilities is provided by the Municipality.