“I would rather have a decent job”: Potential barriers preventing street-waste pickers from improving their socio-economic conditions
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As a result of the high levels of unemployment in South Africa, many unskilled people are forced to resort to a variety of income-generating activities in the informal economy. The activity of collecting and selling recyclables presents virtually no barriers to entry, making it a viable option. Very little research focusing on street-waste pickers has been undertaken, and, when it has been conducted, it has mostly taken the form of case studies. This paper reports the results of the first countrywide research into the potential barriers that prevent street-waste pickers from improving their socio-economic circumstances. The study used a mixedmethod approach. Structured interviews were conducted between April 2011 and June 2012 with 914 streetwaste pickers and 69 buy-back centres in 13 major cities across all nine provinces in South Africa. Low levels of schooling, limited language proficiency, uncertain and low levels of income, as well as limited access to basic social needs make it difficult for waste pickers to move upwards in the hierarchy of the informal economy. The unique set of socio-economic circumstances in which street-waste pickers operate in the various cities and towns in South Africa make the design of any possible policy interventions a complex one. Policymakers will have to take note of the interdependence of the barriers identified in this research. Failing to do so may cause policies that are aimed at supporting street-waste pickers to achieve the exact opposite, and, ironically, deprive these pickers of their livelihood.