A Review of the Working Conditions and Health Status of Waste Pickers at Some Landfill Sites in the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality

Available online at www.pelagiaresearchlibrary.com

Pelagia Research Library

Advances in Applied Science Research, 2017, 8(3):89-96
ISSN : 0976-8610
Pelagia Research Library 89

A Review of the Working Conditions and Health Status of Waste Pickers at Some Landfill Sites in the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa

Mathema Mothiba, Shadung J Moja and Chris Loans
Department of Environmental Sciences, Florida Campus, University of South Africa, Florida, South Africa
Sustainable Resources and Environment Competency, Council of Geoscience, 280 Pretoria Street, Silverton, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa
DustWatch, P.O. Box 1810, Sun Valley 7985, South Africa


Waste management is a global phenomenon and a challenge to all nations. There is a need to ensure that waste is handled in an environmental friendly and healthy manner. In South Africa, the last stage of the life cycle of waste is at the landfill sites, which are normally on the outskirts of town and away from communities because of their release of harmful pollutants. As in other developing countries, there are people who try to make a living by engaging in waste picking at the landfill sites. This study researched on working conditions and health status of waste pickers working at some landfill sites in the City of Tshwane metropolitan Municipality; namely Ga-Rankuwa, Onderstepoort and Hatherley. The study used a multi-method approach, where both qualitative and quantitative factors of research were utilized. The results from the 176 waste pickers in the survey showed that 43% believed that their illnesses were work related, while 34% said they were not ill at all. About 19% of the waste pickers in the survey believed their
illnesses were not work related. Their working conditions remain undesirable, but their work serves as their main source of survival. Waste pickers at landfill sites are aware of the risks of working at the landfill sites especially in inhuman working conditions. There is therefore a need to facilitate improvement in their working conditions and raise awareness on their health status.

Keywords: Waste pickers, Landfill site, Working conditions, Health status, Waste management
Disposal of solid waste at a landfill site is the primary disposal method used in South Africa, as in most developing countries [1,2]. According to Godfrey and Oelofse [3], in the past, solid waste was deemed something to be discarded, and without any value, but this however, recently changed. Lately, municipality waste produced from residential and commercial sources, has become an economic resource for other people. Solid waste that is not well-handled can however, pose serious environmental and health risks, with negative implications to human life and environmental sustainability [4]. Landfill sites release a wide range of harmful pollutants such as leachate, gases and particulate matter that have the potential to cause human illness and contamination of the soil, air and bodies of water [5].

In South Africa, many landfill sites practice waste picking. Usually poor people resort to picking in order to earn a living and typically do so under unhealthy and unsafe conditions. For some individuals and families, waste picking has become a way of survival and the activities of waste pickers fall within the informal economy. Waste pickers collect materials discarded as waste and add value to them by sorting, cleaning and at times altering the physical shape to facilitate transport or by combining material to make commercially viable products. The health and safety risks associated with informal recycling include occupational health risks posed to waste pickers and community health risks posed to the public. The nature of the work waste pickers are involved in exposes them to potential pathogenic bio aerosols that may lead to spreading of various diseases. Waste pickers are at risk of exposure to diseases as they come into direct contact with decomposed, highly mixed waste streams with organic material [6].

The use of heavy machinery in landfill operations also poses a risk to waste pickers and could become a risk factor when salvaging on landfill sites. The primary aim of this research was to identify the health status and document the working conditions of waste pickers working at three landfill sites in the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. Considering that solid waste can be a resource used to provide employment opportunities, it is necessary to educate people, especially waste pickers on good waste management practices. Researchers have noted that little attention is given to the human health risks to which waste pickers are exposed to [7-10]. As much as it is understandable that waste pickers earn a living
from this practice and at one site in the study (Hatherley), living in close proximity to the landfill site, they are creating a security problem and liability for the management of the site.

The distinguishing characteristic of the work life of waste pickers is that they are not paid in an institutionalised or regulated manner for the waste they collect [11]. Waste pickers are involved in an informal activity that is unregulated, labor-intensive, requiring low technological skills and pays very low wages [12]. Since waste picking is unregulated, those involved in it usually become victims of labor exploitation by recycling companies or their intermediaries. Waste pickers target mostly landfill sites since large volumes of waste are deposited onto the landfill sites. Once the waste disposal trucks offload, waste pickers rush to search and remove the recyclables of interest before the waste is compacted. Waste pickers work in conditions that are physically taxing as they work for long periods in the sun, carry their recycled materials and have little time to rest.


Study area background

The City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality (CTMM) was established in 2005 and when founded was made up of 13 former city and town councils. The incorporation of Metsweding District Municipality in 2011 added a significant amount of rural and semi-urban area to Tshwane’s eastern boundary. The City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality’s area increased from 2 198 km² in 2010 to 6 368 km² after the incorporation of Metsweding. The CTMM has a population of approximately 2.9 million people which is made up of 911 536 households as determined through the 2011 Census [13].

Landfill sites

CTMM has 10 landfill sites (of which five are operational and five are closed). The actual annual volume of waste disposed to landfill in the Tshwane area alone (i.e., excluding Metsweding) was estimated at 1 443 290 m³ in 2011 (Statistics provided by CTMM’s Operations officials).

Now according to CTMM landfill operations manager out of the five operational sites, the smaller sites, which are Soshanguve, Ga-Rankuwa and Bronkhorstspruit, received between 14,000 and 18,000 tons of waste per month while the two larger sites, Hatherley and Onderstepoort received between 150 000 and 250 000 tons of waste per month. The biggest challenge was the lack of waste information data at all the sites. There is no comprehensive database overlying management information systems in place to produce reliable data and management information, and there are no weighing bridges at the sites. This study was undertaken at three landfill sites in Tshwane Municipality and below is their coordinates and short description.

Ga-Rankuwa landfill site
The landfill site is surrounded by township to north and south with coordinates 25°34 ’57” S; 27° 59′ 05″ E.
Onderstepoort landfill site
The landfill site is surrounded by major transport links railway line as well as nature reserves with coordinates
25°39’02″S; 28°09’07″E.
Hatherley landfill site
The landfill site is very close to township and there is a new development around the site with coordinates 25°44’26″S;

Activities on different sites

Salvaging of waste for recycling takes place on site and according to the waste pickers’ committee at that site, there are 56 waste pickers on site who come on a daily basis to sort from the site. The site is less than 5 km from a residential area
The site is not fenced but there is some kind of order on site. There is recycling taking place on site, which is rather organized. According to the waste pickers committee, 256 waste pickers work on the site. They have divided themselves into groups to work on certain weekends but during the week, they all come.
There are many waste pickers at this site because it is the largest site and when Kwaggasrand landfill site closed, more waste pickers chose to go to this site. According to the waste pickers’ committee, there are between 500 and 600 waste pickers on site. The large number of waste pickers on site has led to many challenges and at the site the researcher only managed to work with two cooperatives of waste pickers and not all waste pickers were involved.

For the full report, please view the PDF document – Mathema Mothiba Published article

Comments are closed.