SA’s ‘vulnerable’ waste reclaimers get Personal Protective Equipment

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has stepped in to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to South Africa’s waste reclaimers.

UNIDO said waste reclaimers’ daily earnings were impacted by the restriction of movement during lockdown and that they have been risking their lives and safety as the pandemic continues to generate new types of hazardous infectious waste that could be contaminated by the virus.

As part of the Japanese-funded project, PPE was provided to members of the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) at four pilot integration sites in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape.

Simon Mbata, a leader of a waste reclaimers group at the pilot integration site at Vaalpark under SAWPA, explained that many waste workers could not afford PPE and could therefore not go back to work. 

“We are not employed and are not provided with PPE by any specific party.” 

The initiative also forms part of the recently launched United Nations Flash Appeal aimed at assisting up to 10 million people in vulnerable communities in South Africa facing various risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Building the recycling economy

The provision of PPE to waste reclaimers is aimed at expanding activities on safety and security for healthcare waste management under the pandemic. 

A key component of the UNIDO project is to support ongoing processes aimed at building the recycling economy through the integration of informal waste reclaimers and the promotion of waste separation at source. 

Waste reclaimers at the Botshabelo pilot integration site wearing PPE donated through the UNIDO/Japan project. Image UNIDO.

The project is being implemented in partnership with industry, the University of Witwatersrand, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

Suzan Oelofse of the CSIR said waste pickers were particularly hard hit, and that this project provided an excellent opportunity to provide COVID-19 relief support to waste pickers in South Africa.

“This is an immediate and direct support intervention of the UN’s COVID 19 response to support effective, safe, and environmentally sound waste management. It also contributes to laying the foundations for building back better after the pandemic and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda.”

Cecilia Njenga, Head of the UN Environment Office in South Africa.

Khaled El Mekwad, Head of UNIDO’s Regional Office in South Africa, reiterated that the UN agencies in South Africa were working together in response to the COVID19 pandemic.

“UNIDO is contributing to supporting the efforts of the Government of South Africa. In this particular case, we are helping to ensure the continued provision of waste management services by supporting waste workers as important players in the field.” 

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Japan’s ambassador to South Africa, Norio Maruyama, said his government was happy to help South Africans overcome its challenges.

“People working in the informal sector are the most vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic. Providing them with PPE is therefore extremely important – it enables them to return to work to earn their daily income, while helping them avoid contamination,” he concluded.

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Presh JM Reporter

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