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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
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 engaging in informal waste picking. Literature portrays waste picking 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, they sometimes find discarded mobile phones and computer tablets which they sell. Further, many choose to pick waste because of consistent earnings, despite the poor working conditions.

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