The myth of livelihoods through urban mining: The case of e-waste pickers in Cape Town

Authors

  • Takunda Y. Chitaka DSI/NRF/CSIR Chair in Waste and Society, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1109-0593
  • Thandazile Moyo Minerals to Metals Initiative, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7211-9508
  • Katharina Gihring Process, Energy and Environmental Technology Station, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Catherina Schenck DSI/NRF/CSIR Chair in Waste and Society, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5299-5335

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2022/12456

Keywords:

informal sector, e-waste, sustainable livelihoods, informal jobs, recycling

Abstract

Waste pickers are widely acknowledged as an integral part of the formal and informal economy, diverting waste into the secondary resource economy through urban mining. Urban mining in itself is considered to be a source of livelihoods. We investigated the livelihoods of e-waste pickers through 110 surveys in Cape Town, South Africa. Waste pickers often indicated that they were engaged in the sector not by choice but by necessity, expressing that earning money is the only enjoyable aspect of their job. The results from the study substantiate that it is unlikely that waste pickers could survive on e-waste picking alone as 83.3% of reported incomes were below minimum wage, with 22.9% below the food poverty line. Thus, the majority of waste pickers collected a wide array of recyclables. We also found that the waste pickers in Cape Town engage in multiple e-waste related activities, including collection, dismantling and processing to a lesser extent. They work long hours in arduous working conditions which present multiple hazards for their health and safety. Ultimately, e-waste pickers’ incomes cannot be considered commensurate with the nature of the work. Further, e-waste picking cannot be regarded to significantly contribute to livelihoods, but is rather a survivalist strategy. The survivalist nature of the work does not allow for waste pickers to move upwards in the waste value chain and benefit from greater income opportunities. Furthermore, their lack of skills prohibits waste pickers’ transition to formal employment. With a lack of options, it is necessary to ensure that the waste sector provides opportunities for decent work to enable workers to lift themselves out of poverty.

Significance:

  • E-waste pickers participate in multiple activities across the e-waste value chain including collection, dismantling, processing, and repair and refurbishment.
  • E-waste pickers in Cape Town cannot make a living on e-waste alone, and supplement their income from collecting other recyclables.
  • E-waste pickers work long hours in difficult working conditions which pose a threat to their health and safety.
  • E-waste picking is a survivalist strategy.

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Published

2022-08-31

How to Cite

Chitaka, T. Y., Moyo, T., Gihring, K., & Schenck, C. (2022). The myth of livelihoods through urban mining: The case of e-waste pickers in Cape Town. South African Journal of Science. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2022/12456

Issue

Section

Waste as a Resource Research Article

Funding data

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