Cardboard collectors are amongst the poorest informal workers; their potential contribution both to cities and the environment has largely gone unrecognized. In Durban, South Africa these workers spend their days searching for scrap cardboard, delivering their finds to depots, which sell them on to formal recycling companies. To many, the piles of collected cardboard may seem to be nothing more than waste – but the truth is that they contain unrealized potential, which could help to address three important problems: climate change, unsustainable slum communities, and low levels of employment in the city.
The core of the idea is to link the amount of CO2, which is absorbed by the trees that are saved through the recycling work of the informal cardboard collectors, to the City of Durban’s Carbon Trading Program. Funds received through the program would be used to set up tree nurseries in slum areas. The trees would be used to create new employment streams, such as horticulture and associated products. They would also have several resilience effects on the slum areas. In this way, drawing on the existing efforts of the City, the cardboard collected by informal workers becomes the catalyst for a chain reaction that improves resilience and sustainability in slum areas, provides recognition for the work of the cardboard collectors, and creates employment opportunities.
‘Recycling for Resilience’ would provide several benefits:
- Cardboard collectors will receive the acknowledgement they deserve + an improvement in their working conditions and will generate income for their communities
- Slum communities will benefit from new job opportunities
- Slums will be upgraded and become more resilient
- The local government will be challenged to implement better waste management and in extending the life of tip sites
- It will contribute to climate change mitigation