Urban appropriations in a Southern city: understanding waste picking in South Africa

Authors: Anesu Makina*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa, Urban Geography
Keywords: informality, South Africa, appropriations, waste
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom 2, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Informal waste picking is a defining feature in cities across the global South. Through my study in South Africa, I articulate aspects of informality that are often not discussed in mainstream literature, including conflict, securing territory, and the continuous nature of informal activities. I begin by interrogating the motives for informal waste work. Literature portrays informal work as one of the least desirable occupations or survivalist work, yet high numbers in this occupation suggest otherwise.
I investigated the complex decision-making processes which create pathways into the profession and influence the choice to remain despite the stigma. I found that many waste pickers, in fact, earn more money in comparison to other informal and formal jobs. This is because, in addition to finding recyclables such as plastic bottles and cardboard, waste pickers sometimes find discarded mobile phones and computer tablets which they sell. Many choose to do waste work because of consistent earnings, despite the poor working conditions. My research opens the cannon through which to understand informality generally and waste picking specifically.

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