Livelihoods and recycling: How collecting cans helped to pay school fees

Compiled by Kwanda Lande (on behalf of CORC)

This is the story of Nosisi, a resident of Masipumelele, Fishhoek – Cape Town. She speaks about her experience collecting waste with the Solid Waste Network (SWN), an initiative that supports informal waste pickers that live in informal settlements around Cape Town to access the recycling market. In this story Nosisi, takes us back to a particular moment that captures how waste picking impacted her. 

It was 2015 and my child was doing grade two. I was working for an organisation but I was struggling a lot, especially when paying for schools fees for my child. I decided to visit her school principal. I asked the principal to reduce the school fees after I explained my situation to him. The principal said he can not do that and I explained to him that I have an idea of how to pay the fees. I told him that I want to recycle cans, that I have already started collecting some and that this will help me raise money for my children’s school fees. He said that he can not reduce the school fee because the school is also struggling to pay salaries to teachers employed by the school governing body. 

Nosisi Vena during the waste collections by solid waste network collectors.

I asked that we pause our conversation so that I can go home and think about what to do. This was because I was also not sure about recycling and I was not certain that I wanted to do this work. He encouraged me that I should do it. He said he was going to ask every learner to bring one can to school to contribute and help me raise the money for the school fees of my child. So every morning I would stand at the gate for learners to drop cans that I took home. Ever since, I never asked for my child’s school fees to be reduced. I am now able to pay the full amount for her school fees. This is the most important story for me because it was about the education of my child and her future.

I have faced a lot of problems in between this moment and it is important to conclude this story by talking about these problems. The problems that I have faced include, the fact that there was a time when I did not have a trolley to collect waste. As a result I did not collect waste for five months. The trolley that I was using got stolen and I decided to take a break until I got another trolley. It is not perfect for what I do, but because I do not have anything better to use I am forced to use it. My plan is to have a big trolley – the one with four wheels – which are normally used in shopping malls. I like them because they are big enough, they do not require petrol and they are easy to use.

Nosisi has been a waste picker since 2014, and she recycles glass (trashed and refundable bottles), and cans (steel and aluminium). She usually requests from the solid waste network that her waste be collected in every after two month and she would receive between R1350 and R1700 for bottles and R3000 for cans. This would be an estimate of 5000 kilograms of bottles and 3000 kilograms of cans, since she is paid R0.35 per kg for bottles and R1 per kg for cans. She admits that although this does not help to buy everything that she needs, it has made a lot of difference in her household, especially with regards to buying groceries, electricity and paying for school fees of her children.

Recyclable waste that is collected by pickers of the solid waste network.

Recyclable waste that is collected by pickers of the solid waste network.

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