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Covid-19, Recycling, and Waste-Pickers

The global recycling industry has been severely affected by the ‘coronacrisis’ – with demand falling, many recycling plants have had to close. Waste-pickers (informal recyclers) – already at a disadvantage in the value chain – are at risk, either because their livelihoods are threatened or because they could contract the virus by handling contaminated waste.

In South Africa, the North Gauteng High Court dismissed an urgent application made by Lawyers for Human Rights in May to allow informal recyclers to work. The court denied that recyclers are an essential service during lockdown, making a clear distinction between waste recycling and the essential service of waste and refuse removal. However, these waste-pickers are considered the backbone of the recycling industry in South Africa, and the livelihoods of between 60 000 and 90 000 informal recyclers have been affected by the lockdown.

Their plight was highlighted when nine informal recyclers broke lockdown regulations to work and were arrested. The National Prosecuting Authority ordered their release after almost 90 days in prison, and the North Gauteng High Court declared their arrest and detention unlawful and unconstitutional.

Source: Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2020